About Me

My photo
Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Little hands & lettuce

Today I reorganized my creative space a little. I cannot tell you how good it feels to have a space that is clean and more open feeling. Something about change outside (the trees, the breeze that is blowing through my open window as I write, and now the shift in my space, and the elimination of whole bunch of clutter) to invite other kinds of change. It feels really good to be in this space now. Instead of avoiding the room unless I have to go to bed, I find myself walking by the open door and being drawn in.

It is late Friday afternoon as I type this. Outside I can hear lawnmowers, traffic, and the sound of the wind in the trees. It is a blue, sunny day (yes, again), and the combination of cool breeze and sunny day is truly gorgeous. I have had the back door into the garden open all day, inviting the air through the house, and the sounds of the garden filter into the back hall and the kitchen.

In a couple of hours I will be heading out to a devotional gathering with friends. I am really looking forward to sitting and praying with friends -- and just letting go of everything the week has brought rushing in. I am also looking forward to walking over to the park after the devotional to enjoy the Italian film festival under the starry sky with a whole bunch of friends. It is going to be a great night!

Yesterday I was volunteering at Soil Born. We had a whole bunch of second graders come visit the farm on a field trip.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
They started the day by visiting the pig, the newly born calf (it was born Wednesday night at 8pm) and learning about chickens. Chickens create manure, but they are also great lawnmowers. They eat insects and grass, and fertilize the soil. The chicken coop is mobile, and only stays in any given place for couple of days before being moved to its next site. That way the weeds are kept down all over the farm, and the soil keeps getting richer. It is a great system. The only problem with the chickens seems to be keeping them alive. Hawks see the coop as a chicken buffet, and between them swooping down and grabbing the chicks and the coyotes that manage to get others, many have been lost this year to predators.

After some time with the animals the a couple of the kids got to harvest their first head of lettuce.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
Add captionThis photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission. 
This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
It was a great group of kids, and their enthusiasm at getting to harvest food straight from the earth was infectious. We headed over to the youth garden after seeing the fully grown lettuce and split up into three groups.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
One group mixed soil and planted cover crop (to fix nitrogen in the soil); a second group made lettuce tacos filled with carrots and peppers from the garden (dipped in hummus), and a third group planted lettuce with me. I love planting with kids. Most of them are so excited to be out there and getting their hands in the soil. Our groups switched off, so we planted a lot of lettuce. The kids were mighty pleased with their work.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
Before the kids climbed back onto the school bus we took a walk down to the river to cool off. Just like last week, most of the kids had never actually been to the river before. The river that runs right through the middle of the city they are growing up in. Their experience of growing up is so different from my own. I struggle to imagine being seven or eight years old and having so few opportunities to interact with the natural world. Makes me think of the book The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble. Soil Born is indeed a blessing in these kids' lives. I think they had a good day. I don't know. What do you think?

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

Awesome bunch of kids, eh?

When was the last time you were out on farmland experiencing where your food is grown? When was the last time you were out in the natural world period?

I hope you have an incredible weekend (and that you manage to get outside)! It is apple season -- perfect reason to go explore local farms in your area if you live in the northern hemisphere! I will be at Yoga Aid tomorrow -- a fundraiser for yoga projects in Africa. A large number of people will be congregating at one of the local parks to attempt to do 108 sun salutations in a row. I know. Hopefully I will be able to move my fingers for my post on Monday! I am volunteering to help organize the event as well as taking part, so I have to be there at 7.30am. No lazy Saturday morning for me!

I hope you have a superb weekend, friends! See you back here for the start of a new week!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My space

I started realizing this morning that I have a morning ritual of sorts that helps ease me into my day instead of entering it in a rushed, stressed manner, my head already filled with must dos and how will I evers? I start my day in the kitchen with my prayer book, some of the Baha'i writings to help focus my day on the spiritual, and my journal to do my morning pages, and jot down my "to do" list, making sure that I include at least one thing that I love to do on my list.

This process lasts anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, depending on what I have going on in my day. It is almost always accompanied by a hot cup of water with lemon juice, to get my body moving.

Once I am done in the kitchen, I usually go open all the blinds to let the light flood into the living room. We live in a place that has a lot of very beautiful light, and it just feels wrong to me to not open the house to it from every angle, even if it does make the house warmer by afternoon.

Once the house is full of light, I head out back into the garden. I am not sure why I do this, really. I think it is because I like to be out in nature first thing in the morning. Feel the sunshine on my skin. Hear the birds. Feel connected. As usual, the sky is blue again today:

The back garden is looking inviting today. Unfortunately I have a doctor's appointment soon, so I will not be here to enjoy it until later this afternoon. Doesn't this just make you want to make yourself a cool drink and settle in with a book?

Once I had stretched up towards that blue sky, I headed back into my room to get to work. My room has the least light of any room in the house. It feels like a bit of a cave in ways. But it is my place to create, and I cherish it.

I am settled in to work now. I am working on writing and editing poems for a collection to send off to a few different publications. Getting even five or six poems together sounds small, but it is amazing how much effort it takes to get myself focused these days. It does, however, feel really good to be working towards something that has a deadline in October. And to be writing and editing my own poetry is sublime also.

I was thinking today about the space that I live and create in, which is why I wandered around snapping shots of my spaces. What do your spaces look like? If you would like to share, please post links to your images below, or jot me an email. If you write a blog entry about your creative spaces, post a link to your blog in the comments section, below.

I hope you all have a beautiful Wednesday! Here is me, in my space, wishing you a superb day of creativity in yours!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rain showers, tea, and back yard chickens

The air has started hinting at a season change. I say hint because the forecast for the next few days is more of the 90s. But yesterday we actually had slightly cooler weather. Cool enough that a very light rain shower fell for not more than 15 minutes. I was sitting in a coffee shop downtown with one of my girlfriends sipping our "bowls of soul" (steamed soy milk with chamomile tea and honey) and catching up when she interrupted me to point at unusual amount of moisture falling from the sky outside. We sat and stared. It was more of a sprinkle than a rain shower, but I am learning to take whatever I can get in the way of precipitation out here. It felt like such a gift even though it was over before we made it back outside in our tank tops and sandals to drive home.

But seriously, it does feel like the season is shifting, and I am really looking forward to the Fall. For some rain showers, and days when I can get away with getting bundled up without looking utterly ridiculous. I never thought I would hear myself say that I looked forward to getting bundled up after dressing like Michelin Man in Canada for almost six years, but there you go. I have been finding myself missing snow lately also. Fortunately one of my best friends and her husband just moved to Newfoundland and bought a house there, so in the future, whenever I need a snow fix I can hop on a plane and go get enough of it to last me the rest of my life.

I went on a date this week with a man who has chickens in his back yard. I painted my toe nails specially for the occasion. He told me that I should watch my toes because his chickens would mistaken my crimson nails for berries and peck at them. New note to self: don't paint nails on first dates with men who raise poultry. Just when you think you've experienced it all....(side note: In case you are curious, I still have all of my toes, for which I am incredibly grateful!)

I am having some health issues right now that the doctors have not been able to figure out. They are stumped. The result is that I've had awful stomach aches for the last two weeks. This evening my mom came home and heated up some plain rice for supper. I am investigating with trying to find foods that I can eat without getting a stomach ache until we figure out what is happening. There is something about having one's mother prepare any kind of food for you when you are not feeling well that just makes the world feel SO much better. When I feel fine I would rather do the cooking, but when I am under the weather having my mom close is such a blessing. I made a mental note to include her in my gratitude Monday post. I am deeply grateful for my mother's tenderness when she has had a long and stressful day at the office and is feeling tired herself.

I have been taking Karen Walrond's Chookooloonks Pathfinder course, and am finding it is really helpful. I had fallen a bit behind the last few days so today was my catch up day. I made lists of things I love to do, and wrote out practical steps to take towards achieving my goals. I used colourful markers and drew inspiration maps. It is amazing to me how ideas are emerging out of the void -- some of which I have had before, but some of which I had never considered. Even better is her telling me to write out the small steps to get me where I want to be. Having deadlines is a BIG help! I am really excited to start taking the steps I have outlined over the next few weeks. Some of them I am already working on -- like attending poetry readings by well-known poets (I am going to hear Mary Oliver read in a couple of weeks....SO excited!), and working on a manuscript of poetry that I am going to start sending off to publishers to see if I can get a collection of poetry published. It is all really scary, but exciting at the same time. So much foreign territory -- so much unknown. I feel completely out of my comfort zone, and the fact that I am still moving forward despite this fact is really, really empowering! I am feeling grateful for Karen Walrond, her incredible photography and blog posts, and her courage to leave her high-paying corporate job to follow her heart and become so successful at highlighting all the beauty that exists in the world. This course rocks!

I am also feeling grateful for my girlfriends here in California -- the ones that go out for hot drinks with me to share our fears, hopes, dreams and moments of humour with each other. The ones who are incredible mothers (I am learning SO much from them all!). The ones who are training for half-marathons (Dionne, Julia, and Meredith, I'm talking to you!) and inspiring me to want to strive to be even fitter and stronger over the next year. The ones who go to totally girly movies with me. The ones who invite me out to breakfasts and dinners, who join me for Italian film festivals on the grass under the starry sky, who remind me to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously, and who take the time to sit and listen to all the details of first dates, and reflect my experiences back to me in a new light.

Tonight I should be chairing a meeting. I had the agenda all ready, and had studied all the documents that I was planning on having people read and discuss. I was really looking forward to it, but my stomach was not, so I am home resting instead, and my dear mother is very kindly filling in for me. Gratitude once again that she is close by to help out when I am under the weather.

Tomorrow morning, if I am up to it, I am having tea with another friend before I start the work day. I am looking forward to catching up with her, and to starting my day by sipping tea with a friend. I used to meet one of my closest friends from Canada for mid-morning tea at a tiny German bakery on Prince Edward Island, and it always made the day so much better. I have a good feeling about tomorrow already!

As the weather cools off, and you start enjoying hot cups of tea and coffee, and getting bundled up when you leave the house, what are you feeling grateful for? Try jotting down at least one thing before you fall asleep at night that you feel grateful for. Or at least think it. Thoughts of gratitude have such incredible power to transform the experience of this life I am finding. Have a great Monday night, and a superb Tuesday, friends! See you here Wednesday.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day on the farm

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reprinted without consent.
Yesterday I spent the morning on Soil Born Farm assisting with a field trip of 25 second graders. I love that age group. They are so inquisitive and pure-hearted--so full of joy and excitement for life. Before the kids arrived we chopped up carrots and peppers from the garden to use in lettuce wraps that we were going to have the kids dip in humus.

At the appointed time the yellow school bus rumbled down the driveway onto the farm, and the kids tumbled out. They were accompanied by their teacher and four chaperones, and the enthusiastic bus driver ended up joining us as well!

We started the day as we always do -- getting to know the kids and then having them come up with a list of safety agreements that we write up on a whiteboard while the kids sit in a semi-circle around us on hay bales. Once we had our agreements, we headed off for a tour of the farm, stopping to visit the pigs, and watch them roll in the mud to cool down, the chickens that were pecking around their mobile enclosure, the cows and the sheep. Once we had visited all the animals we headed over to the youth garden and divided up into two groups. Guy planted cover crop in small peat cups with half the group, and the other half came to learn about peppers with me, and to make carrot and pepper wraps that they got to eat sitting on tree stumps that we have sitting in a circle at the far end of the garden.

The kids saw a real baby rabbit that was jumping around the garden, and got to harvest some vegetables (some, for the first time ever). They also got to learn about all the different varieties of peppers and tomatoes we grow in the garden. I was incredibly impressed with their ability to remember all the names of the peppers by the time they got back on the school bus. For some of the kids this was also the first time they had eaten lettuce wraps. Watching kids taste fresh vegetables in the garden in which they were grown is something special. For a generation of kids most of whom have no idea where their food comes from, taking a field trip to a farm like Soil Born can be life-changing.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reprinted without consent
At the end of the day we walked the kids down to the river to learn about the importance of river water to successful farming and healthy eating. We had to cross the bike path on the way to the river, which has professional cyclists whooshing past every few minutes at very high speeds, so the kids got a lesson in crossing a bike path! Although most of these kids live with 30 minutes of the American River, many of them had never actually visited it before. Seeing so much water rushing past is a really exciting experience if you have never done it before. The kids wanted to put their hands in the cold water, find frogs hiding along the banks of the river, and chase lizards. Watching them reminded me once again how vital regular exposure to the natural world from a young age is in shaping a person's life and values. I am curious to see how the experience of visiting the farm as children influences these kids' eating habits in the future, and whether they nurture a strong relationship between their own children and the natural world. 

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reprinted without consent.
At the end of the day we discussed what everyone had enjoyed most about being on the farm. Even after only a little over three hours, the kids were making connections--between the farm animals and the fertile soil; between healthy soil and healthy crops; and between clean water and successful agriculture. I'd say it was a successful day, and though I felt exhausted from being out in the heat under the sun for three hours straight and keeping up with that many kids, I felt really excited to have been a part of their learning experience. And to have learned from them. I am looking forward to being back out on the farm with another great group of second graders next Thursday!

This week has gone by incredibly fast. I am amazed that it is already Friday afternoon. I am really looking forward to the weekend ahead--to yoga in the park tomorrow morning with a mystery guest teacher, to devotions with friends this evening, to catching up with two close friends who just got back from a trip to Italy and Paris, and to plenty of quality time with the pile of books that keeps getting taller next to my bed.

I hope you have a truly wonderful weekend, friends! See you on Monday!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In search of poetry

Yesterday I drove down to Danville to hear Jane Hirshfield read her poetry. I didn't want to get stuck in traffic so I left really early and had a few hours to spare before the reading. I don't know if you have ever been to Danville, but it is super cute. Lots of little shops and restaurants, salons and even an equestrian shop on the main street I didn't get shots of everything, but I managed to snap a few before the sun got too low on the horizon.

I especially loved the little shops with funky names -- like "Snicker Doodle" (below), and the traditional barber shop with the red and blue striped sign outside, just like when I was a kid.

I had dinner in a superb restaurant called "Sideboard" that made hot chocolate using house-made chocolate and their own, in-house marshmallows. My spinach salad had fresh blueberries and strawberries scattered generously through it, and was topped with feta. The dressing was vanilla pear vinaigrette, and when I asked for salt, my waiter brought hand-ground pink Himalayan salt crystals to my table.

I also came across this very interesting looking building that had a sign on it saying it was a hotel, but it did not look to be used much....although there were odd curtain-looking things hanging in the back windows of what seemed to be an abandoned building. Kind of eerie, to be honest.

You can see the curtains better up close.

And this door, on the ground floor, caught my attention. Beautiful, isn't it?

I finally meandered over to the reading, helped set up the chairs, and got myself a seat in the front row. There were only maybe 15 or 20 of us there, which created a very intimate atmosphere. I got to ask her how to finally master line breaks in my poetry (her answer: practice, practice, practice -- and think of it as music), and I was immersed in the world of presence, silence and the precision of words placed just so by a hand and mind that has been perfecting the skill of crafting poetry for a very long time.

I drove home late at night with the lights of traffic red and white against the blackness feeling immensely blessed to have gotten to heard Jane read. There are few things quite as inspiring to a poet as listening to a fellow poet who has spent years mastering the craft of stringing words together just so, to form a poem. Jane has certainly done that, over and over, and her new book, Come, Thief is a tender, deep collection that invites the reader to draw closer and listen with a greater degree of attention, to the world around us, and our own hearts.

It is late now. Tomorrow morning I have to be up early and out on the Soil Born Farm working with a group of second graders that are coming out on a field trip. I cannot wait! I hope you have a superb Thursday, friends! See you here Friday before another long, glorious weekend!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The "C" word

This photograph is the property of Dionne Randolph. May not be reprinted without permission.

"To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." -Leo Buscaglia

I mentioned in my blog post last week (Deepening the Vision) that I am taking part in a course called Pathfinder, which is intended to help participants find their path in life. Every day I am sent activities to engage in to help me progress towards greater clarity about my chosen career path. Last week I made a vision board, which i posted a photo of here. Since I wrote that post however, I was told to add a few more things to my board. One was my word of the year.

A word of the year is a word that seems to best encapsulate one's goals for the year ahead. I love tasks, so when I got this assignment, I got straight to work looking over the images on my board and trying to come up with one word that best encapsulates what I am hoping to accomplish this year. I grabbed my journal and opened it to a fresh page, and got my pen out, and wrote "Joy" at the top of the page.

I sat there looking at it, and I thought --yeah, that is great, but that is not everything.

I wrote "gratitude" beneath that.

Better, but still not quite it.

I kept going:
let go

I pondered over my list all day, and went to bed that night still uncertain which one felt right. The instructor for the course, Karen Walrond, said that we would *know* when we had the right word. We would be able to *feel* it. I lay in bed that night staring at the ceiling and wondering why no one word seemed right.

When I woke up in the morning I looked at my list again. My eye kept stopping on commit, but surely, I told myself, that could not be my word for the year.

I mean...really?

Karen had instructed us, once we had chosen a word, to write it in large letters across our board, so I got out my whiteout and started scrolling it across my board. Half way into writing the word I started having doubts. I wasn't sure about this word. I tried rubbing the first three letters off of my board, but I couldn't wipe them away. I tried a wet sponge. No luck. I stared at the word, wishing it off my board, but there was no taking it back.

So I finished writing it, in fine white letters. When I was done I stood back and looked at my board. I compared it with the example Karen had given us of her board, with its big chunky green ABUNDANCE blazened across the board. I looked back at my scrawny letters. I began to realize that commit was definitely my word. I was so uncomfortable with the word that even writing it in the middle of my vision board was giving me heartburn. Yeah. I *felt* it alright.

I made the letters bigger and thicker, and I found a few quotes that had to do with commitment and added them also. COMMIT. It looks better now. More visible from a distance. Yes. I definitely need to work on commitment this year -- no question about it! Commitment in my work -- with my writing, my research and my agricultural work. Commitment to my goal of increasing my salary. Commitment to finding myself a new home somewhere. To strengthening my relationship with God. And to opening myself to the possibility of love again. The word really sits rather snugly right at the centre of everything I am seeking right now.

One of my best friends, Dionne (see gorgeous wedding photo above), just recently got married. Marriage is a huge commitment. She and her husband are a couple that I see often. I love to hang out with them because they are fun-loving and playful, but also gentle and kind. They also challenge each other -- respectfully -- to be better people. When Dionne wants to work on something like her running, or her spiritual growth, Todd is supportive and encouraging. Even when it is something that he is not all that interested in, if he can see that Dionne is excited about something he is right there behind her encouraging her to pursue her own personal growth and development. Sharing a marriage relationship is the epitome of commitment, so I am grateful that I have Todd and Dionne in my life because they not only share their hopes and dreams and joys and fears in relationship -- they are always super encouraging and excited to hear about my exploration and experiences of relationship.

My vision board is now complete, and the word COMMIT meets my eyes whenever I glance over at it, firm and defiant -- reminding me of the work that lies ahead. I am grateful for this word, and for the exercise of having to commit to a word of the year -- my first tiny step towards commitment.

Do you have a word for the year? If you had to choose one, what would it be, and how would it act as a talisman to give you direction towards achieving your goals in the year ahead? If you come up with one and feel like sharing, I would love to read your experience with coming up with one below.

Happy gratitude Monday, friends! I hope you have a great week ahead!

Friday, September 16, 2011

No plan B

I was talking to a friend last night about making one's living from one's art. In her case, painting. She has been painting full time, and supporting herself entirely from her artwork since she was 22, so I thought she might be a good person to ask for tips on how to get there. Her answer was simple. So simple that I thought to myself: there must be more to this. But no, there wasn't. She said:

"No plan B." 

Yeah. Right.

But really, if I think about it, when I have no other option, I always manage to make things work in life. It's just that I have always done so many different types of things that there always have been other options. There has always been something else I could do if what I was doing was not working out the way I had hoped.

"No plan B" sounds good, but in reality it means a lot of hard work, and pushing through lots of mistakes that feel like huge pothole failures while they are happening. Just this morning when I woke up I had an email from someone I have been writing for explaining that my writing was still too poetic, and that she had cut a good deal out of work I had recently done for her and hoped that I would not be offended. This particular job is coming to an end, and I have a feeling that one of the reasons is that despite trying my hardest to conform to the style that this company was looking for, my writing was still too descriptive. I am not at all offended. Of course I want her to be happy, so whatever it takes to get there is what I will do, but it can be hard sometimes to not be too hard on myself for not getting it right. I have been doing some work for a food company recently also, and working with a new editor who has also been rather generous with the editorial changes. I recognize that I am just getting started, and that any good writer has to edit a good deal, which means that I would have to edit far more than a good deal given that I am just getting started, and have a lot to learn. Most writers also inevitably go through the phase of feeling as though nothing they write is ever going to be good enough, and clearly the only way to get better is to keep working away at it, but some days the feedback is easier to receive than others. I want all my clients to be happy with the result, so that is my priority, and if it means that I have to deal with more criticism for a while then I guess this is all part of the process.  

Deciding to commit to my writing is easy. Continuing to write when the feedback is anything but complimentary is really hard some days. Today is one such day. I am still trying to find my niche as a writer. Perhaps writing about food is just not my thing, and the only way I will learn that is by giving it a try, which is what I am doing. Or maybe I just need to keep working away at it even on the days when it is not really enjoyable -- maybe if I keep trying I will just eventually reach the point where I can hit the right tone right off the bat without losing my own voice in the process. The truth is that I most enjoy writing that is descriptive and poetic, and that I hope I will eventually find a market for this kind of writing. Where I can still hear my voice in the piece after it has been edited.

I went out into the garden a while ago, looking for something beautiful. I do this on days that are tough. Being in a relatively new community is teaching me to find little tricks to cheer myself up because most of my close friends here have young children, and are not available for a chat or an "i'll be there in 10 minutes for tea" date. Taking myself outside and away from my computer in search of something beautiful is one of my tricks. Today I found my tomato plant. Even though I had not watered it for a few days, I found six ripe cherry tomatoes on it. The smell of the tomato plant, the colour of the tomatoes, and the spray when I turned on the hose to water it all reminded me that life is not so bad. That I do have a green thumb, and I did plant these tomatoes, and they are still growing and producing fruit. That nobody actually has told me my writing is awful, and "how could I NOT have a plan B?" That committing to something that is as close to me as writing is and dealing with the criticism is all part of the process of becoming a better writer. That is it Friday and I do not have to face any more editors all weekend long. That I am going to an awesome devotional gathering this evening with a great group of friends. That I will be doing yoga in a park with over 200 people tomorrow morning. And that I get to go celebrate my dad's birthday (which is actually today) with him tomorrow evening, and one of my best friend's birthday with her on Sunday evening. In truth, things are really very good. 

I'm telling you, tricks work. :-)

Despite the challenges of having to push through the potholes that are inevitable with "No plan B," I am still liking the idea of it. It has a certain ring to it, don't you think? I think I am going to keep moving forward with it as my new motto. What do you think? Do you have a plan B, or are you completely invested in one thing work-wise?

Whether you are a plan B and C person, or a "no plan B" advocate, I hope your weekend is full of the beauty of Fall, and the company of loads of awesome folks! Have a great weekend friends!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Deepening the vision

 I am taking a course right now that is all about finding the next step in life. It is called "Pathfinder." I am hoping it will help me clarify where I am headed and find myself on the path to full time work.

Part of the course is that I receive prompts in my in-box five days a week with activities to help me focus in on what I am passionate about, and what I could imagine establishing a career doing. For the past couple of days the exercise was to gather materials to create a vision board. I had just made a vision board with a women's group that I am a member of a couple of weeks ago, but interestingly, the last two weeks a lot has starting shifting in my life, so I actually had been feeling as though the vision board I made two weeks ago already felt outdated (is this a sign that they work? I am thinking it has definitely contributed!)

Tonight I gathered together everything I have been cutting out of magazines and printing out off of my computer, and put it all together on the board I bought earlier today. I couldn't fit everything I wanted to stick on my board on it -- my life's vision, I am quite relieved to discover, does not fit onto a board...

I am really pleased with the result, and am hoping that by this time next year many of the images will have become a reality in my life. Have you made a vision board lately? Do you have dreams and goals that you are working towards? I invite you to give it a try. All you need is a sheet of poster board, as many magazines with pictures as you can find lying around (and do not mind cutting up!), scissors, and a glue stick. You can also use stickers and coloured pens if you like, but that just makes it flashier. I just used cutouts from magazines and photos of myself and friends to illustrate things that I want in my life. For example, I have a cutout of a body in the middle of my vision board. Inside the body are all sorts of beautiful growing things. To me this symbolizes cultivating beauty on the inside -- spiritual beauty, and my ability to shape my own reality and experience in this world. In the bottom left corner of my board I have a photograph of myself and my former employer and friend on his farm back in Canada. To me this symbolizes my love of farming, and desire to own my own farm some day. It also symbolizes how important a strong sense of community is to me, and how much I want to build a community around myself wherever I am living. The swans on the far right symbolize partnership and family. I am not sure if it is true, but I heard once that swans keep one partner for life, and that is what I am searching for at the moment, so I thought I would include them to help remind myself of the kind of partnership I am looking for.

How about you? What are your goals/dreams? If you make a vision board and feel like sharing please do be in touch. I would love to see what you create!

Have a great Thursday, friends. See you here on Friday!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The joy of clouds

I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and saw clouds! If I had said this a couple of years ago, with as much enthusiasm as I am saying it now, my friends in Canada would have looked at me with a perplexed expression on their faces. But I have not actually seen ONE cloud in months. Not one. Hence my delight today that although there is blue sky, the sun has yet to burn through the clouds, which in my hopeful opinion, is an indication that the chance of rain at some point in the next few weeks is that much greater!

I met a man at a conference I attended this summer in San Francisco who paints clouds. That is his life and his love. Clouds. I was intrigued, and spent a good deal of time talking with him. His name is Chris Page, and he lives in Belchertown (what a name, eh? ;-), MA. After Chris and I were done talking and before I moved on, he handed me a card. On one side of it was his personal information. On the other side were clouds, and this:

"Find an individual cloud in the sky. Acquire it in your mind as part of your art collection. Watch your acquisition until it is gone from view. In your mind let go of your acquisition." 

The conference was about changing our patterns of thought. He was challenging people to think about how they see the world differently using clouds as his tool for perception altering. Are there clouds in the sky outside where you are? Have you stopped to watch them lately? I used to lie on my back on the cool marble front porch of my house as a child in Cyprus with my friends, while eating ice cream. While we ate we could watch the clouds, pointing to dogs, cats, cars, birds, and all sorts of other things that passed by in the clouds, before morphing into something else, or drifting past completely.

I don't know why as adults we stop taking the time to lie on our backs and watch the clouds. Maybe you do. I should speak for myself. I know I don't do it nearly enough these days. Same with the stars and the moon. When was the last time you took a blanket out in the back yard or into a park, lay on your back, and just watched the stars?

I am feeling grateful for the clouds today. I am also feeling grateful for the cool breeze that is moving in my window -- a rarity for the past few months, and a clear indication that we are definitely headed into Fall. I am also grateful that the poet Jane Hirshfield is giving a reading tonight two hours from where I live. I am hoping to drive down there to hear her tonight.

This morning when I woke up I came across this video of an incredible woman named Bel Kaufman who is 100 years old who is a comedian and educator, and just completely set aflame with the spirit of life and joy. Check out this clip. I guarantee it will make you smile!

I am about to head out to the funeral of a friend's husband, another friend's father, and another's brother. I never met him, but his wife, daughter, sister and niece are all in the women's devotional group that takes place in my living room twice a month. Deaths can be incredibly sad times, but when I saw this man's wife last week, right after he passed away, and looked into her eyes, I saw such brightness, love and clarity there. I told her what I saw, and she smiled and told me that her heart has never felt more open, because with her partner gone from this physical world, she has been looking around her at her children, her sister in law, her niece, and even her religious community and realizing that every joy in her life was brought into her life by her husband. That he gave her so much beauty and joy, and that all of that she will have with her forever. I teared up listening to her. How hard is it to let go...how much easier to cling to the person you have just lost, and yet what better way to honour her husband than to celebrate all the joy he has brought into her life?

The clouds are slowly dispersing, as I write, and the sunshine again falling down among the pink blossoms covering the branches of the bush outside my window. I am feeling grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the clouds; to watch them as they disappear, and to let go of my acquisition, as Chris put it. The joy is still here, so really nothing has been lost.

Whatever you fill your Monday with, I invite you to take the time to sit quietly and notice something that brings you joy, take it in, watch it, enjoy it, and then let it go, while holding onto the joy that it brought you. Leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience with this. I wish you all a beautiful gratitude Monday, friends!

Friday, September 9, 2011

In the beginning

In the beginning of anything new it takes a lot of hard work for very little reward, sometimes for a very long time. Last week I planted seeds in the youth garden that I volunteer in. And yesterday, after I finished a morning on the farm teaching 6th graders about tomatoes and peppers and harvesting with them, I walked over to the bed that I had seeded last week to see how everything was doing. From a distance, nothing. But up close:

This week I worked on three tea descriptions that will be printed on packages of tea for a small company back on Prince Edward Island, in Canada, and a story about a local artisan chocolate producer here in Sacramento for Artisan's Table, an online site that connects customers to artisan producers all over the country. I know my food and travel writing is slowly improving, but it feels like I am taking such incredibly small steps towards my goal at times that it is hard to imagine my writing career reaching maturity and bearing fruit in the way I envision.

Fortunately I have farming. Farming gives me hope that all the attention and energy I am putting into my writing will pay off in the long-term. That I will complete my research and finish a first draft of my novel, and that it will someday be published, read and enjoyed.

When I got down on my knees on the earth path between rows and saw the tiny seedlings pressing up out of the soil I felt my entire body breathe a sigh of relief. Somehow the growth of the plants made all the uncertainty in the rest of my life right now alright.

The pump was down yesterday, so I hand watered everything, watching the soil get dark and the water pool in the areas where the bed was slightly lower than the rest. The sun shone through the spray, radiating rainbows into the hot air.

Being able to see progress in the garden tells me that there is undoubtedly progress happening on all fronts, even though I cannot see it.

Last night my dad and I walked home from a restaurant we had gone out to dinner at. It was a lovely evening, the sky was crisp and clear, and the moon was big and luminous, spilling her light through the oak trees, over the black asphalt, the cracked pavement and the wet lawns in front of every house on the street. Watching the moon I felt this deep sense of peace and rootedness. I was on the pavement in Sacramento, but I was also sitting inside my own house back on PEI looking out my huge windows on new year's eve two years ago making a wish that led me west while the moon flooded the living room, and climbing the terraces on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel on the last night of my pilgrimage with the cool stone beneath my bare feet and the sound of fountains bubbling, water streaming past me down the mountain, the call to prayer from a nearby mosque and the pale moon the colour of sun-lit wheat above me, keeping watch as I climbed up towards the Shrine of the Bab.

It is Friday afternoon. Many of my friends are attending a conference this weekend in Moncton, New Brunswick. I did not realize how much I wanted to be there until today, when I started noticing that my heart was just not in my work, and then found myself checking out plane tickets to Moncton -- leaving today. Yeah, I know. Flying across the continent for a weekend with one day's notice...totally unrealistic. I spent the rest of the day struggling through my work, and challenging myself to stay present even though I so wanted to be on the last flight that would have gotten me to Moncton by tomorrow morning. It left at 2pm this afternoon.

This year has included a lot of sacrifice of good times. Travel. Conferences. Dinners out. But more importantly it has included lots of opportunities to learn that in order to succeed, my body and my mind and heart all have to be in one time zone. For example today my heart really wanted to jump that 2pm flight to Moncton. But it would have been leaving my body behind, and how enjoyable would my company have been all weekend with my heart on the opposite side of the continent?

So instead I am staying put. Watering the garden. Going to a devotional gathering. Doing yoga in the park. Talking a walk with a friend, and doing some reading and writing. My life this year has none of the international jet setting that is my norm. Most of what I do fill my days with right now falls way below the socially exciting radar. But there is growth happening. Humble, ordinary, gradual and slow, but growth nevertheless. And I am thinking that is what I need right now, as much as I fight it.

Beginnings require a lot of focus and energy. A lot of TLC. They are a lot like these seedlings, really. Lots of potential, but none of it will be realized if we stop watering them daily at this point. 

Are you working on developing something new in your life? A new relationship/career/journey or even Fall garden? How do you go about nurturing it and staying committed in the initial phases of growth when the proportion of energy going into it is much greater than the perceivable results? 

Have a great weekend, friends! See you on Monday!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Polka dots and patience

Last night I threw a ladies only pre-wedding bash for one of my best friends, Dionne. I decided to do it in in the back garden seeing as I actually *have* a back garden, and a cute one at that, and seeing as I am living in a place where it is still so hot at night that I can still sit outside wearing a strapless dress at night and feel completely comfortable.

Dionne and Todd are getting married this Saturday in Vegas. Straight out of a movie, right? That's what I thought. It is going to be a gorgeous wedding. 

Dionne loves polka dots. Her grandmother loved polka dots, and she passed this quirk along to her granddaughter. So polka dots were a must. Another must were fairy lights in the trees. And coconut passion fruit mousse cake. And fresh grapes. And a watermelon from the youth garden that I volunteer in. I also had passion fruit mango iced tea (hey, you can never have too much passion (fruit), right?) and a bouquet of flowers that all had meaning (I looked them up at the back of The Language of Flowers: A Novel): Calla lily (modesty), Stock (you will always be beautiful), and Aster (patience, because the owner of the flower shop said: "Honey, she's gonna need a hell of a lot of that!")

The carpet I threw in to make us feel more at home out there. It was hand made in Cyprus and was on my bedroom floor throughout my childhood. Hey -- at least *I* felt at home!

We ate, we drank, and we told stories. Stories of our first loves. Of our first kisses. Of our crushes, our disaster dates, our most embarrassing dates, and our heartbreaks. We also talked about our dreams, our hopes and our fears. It was a night filled with laughter. A faint breeze was blowing through the trees. The lights in the trees shed warm light down over us. The moon was bright above us in the sky. A violin was playing...(ok, ok--not really, but it would have been PERFECT if there had been a violinist)...

 and the polka dotted tablecloth rocked, if I do say so myself :-) 

We didn't have any men jumping out of cakes or anything...*sigh*.... (although I was told today that one woman's husband --a fireman-- HAD thoughtfully offered to come over and light some fires, but she banished that idea right out out of his head as soon as he verbalized his offer to help us out), but we did have a lot of fun!

It is such a gift to have such a great group of female friends to celebrate moments like this with. Women who remind me to laugh at myself. Women to eat cake and sip tea with. Women who have such truly awful dating stories (I'm looking at you, Meredith!) that they put mine to shame. Yep. I am glad I have such a great group of female friends here in Sacramento, and I'm incredibly grateful that Dionne is one of them.

Dionne and Todd fly to Vegas in the morning. Standing on the sidewalk late last night saying goodnight to Dionne, I felt a mixture of sadness and excitement for her. Sadness because she herself was full of the emotions that come right before such a big transition, and in all truth, a chapter is ending. But excitement because she is embarking on a new adventure with a man who is absolutely crazy about her. I cannot wait to see the wedding photos!

Do you have a tight network of incredible friends in your life that make every day just that much better, and that are there to support you and celebrate with you during times of transition? Do you buy them polka dotted underwear? ;-)  

Have a great Thursday friends. See you Friday!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Presence as a precursor to unity

Today is Labor Day. I have been asking people all week what that means, exactly, and no one I asked knew the significance, so I was happy to see an article in the paper this morning about the significance of Labor Day. Trade unions played an important role in establishing the United States as a country with one of the economically strongest middle working classes in the world. They fought for higher salaries for workers, and for luxuries that had before then been out of reach of working class families, like retirement benefits. The idea back then was that trade unions strengthened the workers, and in so doing, strengthened the entire nation. Labor Day is a celebration of working people and their rights and contributions to the country.

Today only 7% of workers are members of unions, mainly due to the pressure exerted by large corporations on their employees. With salaries being cut and people losing their jobs and houses all around me, it is hard to want to celebrate labor. Unemployment here in California is second highest in the country. Morale is at an all time low. It seems almost ridiculous to be celebrating a day that symbolized the economic power of the middle class when the middle class is struggling so deeply.

Looking around me at all the suffering that is happening in my community makes me think that there must be a reason for all of this. Suffering cannot be without purpose. The Baha'i writings have a good deal to say about tough times. One of my favourite quotes about suffering says:

"The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plow and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen steel by grinding it the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in a tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had many sorrows. Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have had sorrows." -Abdu'l-Baha

This quote is extremely profound to me. I spent my entire weekend at a workshop on Unity. It was a workshop run by Erica Toussaint, who is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, the national administrative body of the Baha'i community here in the US. Erica has been offering this workshop since the early 1990s, and has been finding it transformational in communities all over the country. The workshop was attended by an assortment of people from a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds, and economic classes. I had been excited when I arrived at the workshop to have an entire weekend to study what the Baha'i writings, a religion that holds as one of its main tenets the unity of the entire human race, had to say about practical things that I could do in my life to contribute to unity of my family and community.

Erica handed out packets with pages of quotes on different subjects that all relate to unity. One was about tests and difficulties and their purpose (the quote above was from this handout); another was on the importance and characteristics of consultation, and yet another was about the destructive power of backbiting and criticism, and how we should focus our attention to improving ourselves instead of criticizing others. I was really excited to get started. We began reading a quote, but almost immediately upon finishing it, someone in the group raised their hand with a question. When they were done, and Erica had answered, I noticed another hand go up, and then another. For the next half an hour people shared stories of sorrows and hardships in their lives, and their own personal experiences that related to this quote. I felt my stomach tighten. There were a lot of quotes, and the quotes contained so much wisdom. We were, in my opinion, wasting precious time listening to story after story of hardship, division, hatred, anger, violence, pain and fear when we could have been immersing ourselves in inspiring and empowering quotes that would tell us how to turn all this negativity into positive change. This pattern continued throughout the day, and at one point I got so frustrated that i had to get up and go outside. I recognized that it was quite clear that the majority of the people in the workshop needed to share their personal stories, and that I was in the minority, but I did not want to have to sit through all of the stories.

When I returned about 15 minutes later, Erica was talking about withdrawing. She was not speaking directly to me, but I felt as though she was. She spoke about the fact that withdrawal was a divisive action, and that only by staying present with each other, speaking with love and respect and compassion, and not taking offense, could we hope to accomplish unity in our communities and relationships. Realizing that walking out as I had was a very clear withdrawal from the group, I promised myself that I would not leave the hall again during our sessions, no matter what was happening around me.

The second day was a little bit easier. There were more quotes, and fewer stories, but still far too many for my taste. I felt uncomfortable, and because I had promised myself to stay put, I felt fidgety. When one person started up on another story, I pulled a book from my bag and started to open it, thinking to myself that I would close it again when he was done -- when we got back to the writings we were studying. But as soon as I started to open it I realized that opening the book, closing my eyes, writing a poem and drawing in the margins of my page were all just alternative forms of withdrawing.

The quotes on the handouts from this weekend were wonderful. And since we only got through a few of them, I now have plenty of material to study in the morning after I pray to help me focus my day on positive action and words. But I think the most important lesson I learned this weekend was that everyone else in that hall knew something about unity that I have yet to learn -- that it starts with a willingness to remain present no matter what is going on inside your head or heart and no matter what people around you are doing or saying. The actions and virtues described in the passages on our handouts were extremely practical and helpful. But they are meaningless in isolation. It is easy to be patient when I am alone, just as it is easy to think of myself as someone who is polite, respectful and detached when I am in a room alone. Unity is not just an abstract idea. It is something that has to be practiced, and it has to be practiced in relationship with other human beings. The quotes may well have had more wisdom in them than the stories that were being shared, but by not wanting to listen to people's stories, I was creating the very division that the workshop on unity was seeking to eliminate.

This may seem like an odd Gratitude Monday post, but gratitude is what I felt when I was driving home last night on the highway with two lanes of fast moving vehicles rushing past on both sides of me. I felt gratitude for all the struggle I have experienced and continue to experience this year because this weekend made me realize that all this struggle and pain are helping me to identify parts of myself that are no longer serving me or my life. Parts of myself that undermine unity and relationships. When I look around me, I realize that the world needs people who can learn to rise above their own limitations to serve humanity. Rising above my limitations is hard when I do not know what they are, but this workshop highlighted a good number of them exceptionally well, and while I know it is going to be a hell of a lot of work to change my own patterns of behaviour, I am excited to have been given the opportunity to clearly identify things that need changing, and to start taking conscious, daily steps in the right direction.

Maybe that is what these tough times in the economy are all about too -- identifying weaknesses that need to be strengthened, or systems that are not working that need to be removed and replaced by something more effective for the needs of modern day society.

Have you stopped and thought about what you are grateful for today?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An honest day's work

I spent the day yesterday on the farm. It was SO good to get out there in the sun and get my hands back into the soil. Farming is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. One of the reasons is that it is so visual. In a few hours of hard work you go from having soil to having long rows of seeds that have already started turning into a crop. It is incredibly rewarding work. As a Baha'i, one of my beliefs is that work is worship. There is not a day that I spend out on farmland that does not feel like worship.

Yesterday I prepared this bed to plant. This involved flattening out the bed until it was level, marking out my three rows using string with stakes at either end (you would be surprised how hard it is to make a straight row without the string guiding you!), and then creating a shallow trench in the soul with a hoe.

It took me a while to get my rows sorted out, but I was pleased with them.

Once I had my rows sorted, divided up my bed into five foot sections. Five feet is an incredibly small amount of space. Back in Canada our rows extended much longer distances. But this is a small garden surrounded by a larger farm, so everything is on a smaller scale.

 Once my bed was divided into sections, I got out my seeds. I planted beets, chard, turnips and mixed greens. When I was farming in Canada I learned that each beet seed actually has two seeds in it. Isn't that cool? In addition to being cool it means that beets have to be well-thinned once they get established to one of the two plants growing in any given spot a chance to really grow. Beets, chard and turnips get planted between 1 and 2 inches apart. Greens can go as much as three seeds per inch. I am enjoying learning US measurements. Having grown up in the Mediterranean, and living in Canada for the last six years, I measure in centimetres, and the folks on the farm here have been well amused by my blank facial expressions whenever they give me instructions that involve measurements. I was grateful that Guy gave me a measuring tape. It was a BIG help!

These are chard seeds. They look a lot like beet seeds though.

Can you see my row of seeds? They look kinda like popcorn from this distance. Isn't it incredible that tall green chard stalks are going to emerge from those tiny things? 

I planted the greens last. It is hard to plant these tiny seeds as they blend in with the soil, which made it difficult to see where I had planted the last seed. It is odd to be planting greens in September. In Canada they would not survive, but here, I am told, they will be just fine. There is so much to learn when you move from one climate to another and attempt to farm. There is much to to understand about the seasons, the soil, the elevation, frost and precipitation. It explains why families that own farms stay in one place, deepening their knowledge of the land over many generations.

I don't have a photo of it, but after I planted this bed Guy and I installed the drip tape. I have had to learn how to install and fix drip irrigation tape since arriving in California. In Canada there was so much precipitation that we did not ever need an irrigation system, but here in California, even sitting right next to a river, we need water. The sun is blisteringly hot even now in September (99 degrees yesterday), and the plants wither within hours without plentiful supply of water. Guy got out a huge wooden reel and I grabbed the end of the drip tape and ran to the opposite end of the bed where I hooked the tape up to the valves that run off of the main water pipe. You have to get the pressure in the main pipe perfectly set or the delicate drip tape explodes when the water starts surging through it. The trial and error of figuring out how far to turn the lever gives you plenty of opportunity to learn how to repair (or replace) the drip irrigation tape! Yesterday, in the process of getting the drip irrigation tape hooked up, I reached down to move some soil that was obstructing the valve and ended up finding myself cupping soil that was moving. After I recovered from the shock of having picked up an enormous, and amazingly well camouflaged bull frog that had been happily enjoying the coolness of the water dripping from the valve, I hooked up the tape and turned the water on. I love the sound of water surging down the lines, and the image my mind creates of the rows of seeds beginning their journey up out of the soil. 

Before I left I harvested some tomatoes for salad, and some gorgeous flowers for the kitchen table. The sunflowers in the garden are towering beauties right now. They are their own solar system. The sun in the sky pales in comparison to their bright yellow brilliance. 

The mighty ones that towered above me I couldn't bear to cut down. But I brought a few smaller ones home. They are shining warm light all over the kitchen. 

Aren't they pure joy?

And on that note, I will leave you with a tune from Luke Slot, called 'A few Honest Words.' 

I hope you all manage to get outside this weekend, and that the sun is shining brightly when you do! Have a great weekend, friends. See you here Monday!