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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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin pie smells like love

"Thought is an agent of change." -Aura Estrada, 2003 

I am reading the book "Say Her Name," by Fracisco Goldman. It is an interesting read, made more interesting by the fact that I started reading not realizing that it is a true, non-fiction work based on his relationship with the woman who he was blessed to call his wife for a far too brief period of time. Knowing it is not fiction only makes the story more moving. The quote above is by Francisco's wife, Aura. It is so true. What you think as you wake up in the morning sends out ripples of energy into the world that influence EVERYTHING and EVERYONE around you. Worth reflecting on what we think about, wouldn't you say?

Yesterday my mother and I baked pumpkin pies. I have yet to taste them. The joy for me was in making them with my mama, and getting to inhale the warm, sweet aroma of the pies baking in the oven and then cooling on the counter while I sat and had a hot cup of black tea with my mama in the kitchen with the back door open into the garden and that late afternoon/early evening golden sunlight falling into the back hall real slow.

Earlier today I sat with my dad and said prayers for a three hour hospital procedure that he had to go do this afternoon, but that ended up taking much longer than expected. It took so long for the anesthesia to wear off that he came home in the midst of neighbourhood tricker treaters. Mom and I practically carried him up the front steps, trying to not scare the kids streaming up and down the sidewalks in our tricker-treating mecca neighbourhood, and into their bedroom, tucked him into bed, fed him chamomile tea through a straw and warmed his icy cold hands up with our own. I thought: this is my dad, and no matter how rarely we connect at the level I wish we could connect, I love him. It's as simple as that. It doesn't matter how close I am to my father...it is scary to see him look so awful--even when I know this time it is nothing too serious. This time. But I know some day it will be, and some day he won't be here any more physically for me to warm his hands and hold the teacup just so, so that he can sip it using a straw. So I sit on his bed and think: "I love you, dad."

It is late. The tricker treaters are all gone home to bed. I am ready to crawl into my own nest and read until I fall asleep. Outside it is finally cool enough to close the windows at night and not boil inside. Not like we are having snow storms that put thousands out of power like they are experiencing on the east coast, but it is cooling off. I am thinking about a story I am trying to write. About a job application I sent out into the universe today. About an editing job I just got helping a friend of a friend with two book projects he is working on. Wondering where I will be come spring. Wondering where my work and heart will lead me. Wondering what I will create tomorrow. I am also thinking that I am grateful for my parents. For the walk I took with my dad yesterday afternoon. For the baking session with my mom. For the chance to cook dinner for my tired mom so she would have something hot to eat when she got home from the hospital tonight with my dad. For the book I am reading, and for Aura's comment: "Thought is an agent of change."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Uninterrupted sun Scrooge hits the you're-in-the-west-now-slow-down-and-appreciate-(uber) subtle-season-shifts button

Call me old fashioned, but I like activities that slow me down. Shelling beans, making a meal from scratch, even peeling almonds, crushing them, and pressing almond milk out of them (and separating three of my nails from the nail beds in the process) sounds like heaven to me. I like the physical motion, the smells, the colours, and knowing that when I am done I will have a very physical, visual result (or a bottle of very creamy almond milk in the fridge!!)

I have been on the computer a lot lately. That is how it goes when your life is job hunting, applying for jobs and writing. I try to take myself away from the computer throughout the day, but lately I have been finding myself in front of it more often than not. Through the window, or when I rush off to pick a family member up from work, or on my way to or from a friend's house, i notice that the season is changing in the trees, but since it is still hot enough to wear sandals and tank tops, I find myself becoming a bit indifferent about the weather. More sunshine. I notice myself not noticing the details of the shift in season. I hear my (charming) self answering "no" when family members ask me whether I have noticed a change in the smell of the air outside.

Every now and then I will stop and look at the trees, and think to myself: how is it possible that they are changing colour and losing their leaves when it is still so warm outside? Canada has effectively spoiled my lifelong distaste for any cloud that dares interrupt a perfectly blue sky, it seems. Where are the CLOUDS, I say to the sky when I roll up the blinds and sunlight pours into my bedroom at the end of October. I have to smile. My non-hockey playing friends back in Canada would kill for weather like this.

I may have become a bit of a weather Scrooge. Maybe it is time for me to slow down a bit more like I did two days ago when I trashed the entire kitchen trying to make homemade almond milk (for the record, it is DELICIOUS, and my nails are slowly healing -- but has anyone come across an almond peeling device? ). Maybe in order to tune into the shift of season I need to take more walks. I haven't taken a walk in over two weeks. I know. Awful. Not like me at all. I am glad it is Friday. I have been working on a job application all week that I finally finished this evening. Maybe I will take a walk this weekend. Crunch through some leaves. Notice the (uber) subtle changes that characterize the shift of seasons out west. Make peace with my outer landscape. Tomorrow is Saturday. The newspaper says it promises to be sunny yet again. Maybe I will take a walk under that irrepressible blue sky and watch the squirrels collect nuts. Maybe I will lie on my back under a tree and watch leaves falling. Maybe I will collect a few and bring them home.

How do you tune in to your outer landscape? How do you slow down and bring your own rhythm into sync with the natural world around you? Enjoy your weekend, friends!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gems of inestimable value

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
"People don't rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot ... Biologists often talk about the 'ecology' of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down roots, the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid?"

~ Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success 
There are a few things I rarely do. One is use a quote that I read on someone else's blog on my own blog. The quote above I read this morning on my favourite blog, Chookooloonks, by Karen Walrond. I am sharing it here because I have been thinking about it all day. It resonates deeply with me. 
I have a friend who is living in Ghana with her three kids and her husband. She lives in a part of the world where she is surrounded by people who have had fewer resources and opportunities to build their lives on than she has. Over the last couple of months, a number of the neighbourhood children have started coming to her house and asking her to teach them. My friend at first thought that they just needed help with learning things that they were challenged by at school, but in the last week she has realized that these children, some of whom are eight and nine years old, are almost completely illiterate. She is angered by the fact that people in some areas of the world have so much, and these children living around her are not even being provided with basic literacy skills. As she says, she can help them to the best of her ability, but the need is much greater than just this group of children, and she cannot address the lack of educational or other resources available to the children on a larger scale. 
Yesterday we had two children's librarians sitting in our living room sipping tea. One of them told me all about her two sons, both of whom were privately educated through high school, and attended two of the highest ranked universities in the country. They worked very hard, and are doing very well for themselves, and needless to say, she is very proud of them. 
Listening to her speak, I wondered why we don't take personal pride in educating ALL our children. I recognize that we have a responsibility to educate our own children, but do we not have an equal responsibility to educate ALL children? 
The librarian told me that when she went to enroll her son in a public high school in one of the southern states of the U.S., she was told that at this particular school, out of 120 freshmen, only 40% actually graduate, and out of that 40%, only 20 go on to university. Consulting with her son later, she asked him what he thought about attending this school, and he said "if my friends don't go to college, why would I?" Good point. Why would he? So she enrolled him in a private high school that had a 100% graduation expectation rate, and he is now in college, after which he will undoubtedly contribute something unique and valuable to society. My question is: what about those kids in the public school? Why are we not concerned that the unique gifts that they have to contribute to society may never be manifested? 
The Baha'i writings say that we should "regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." How much capacity for progress across the globe are we neglecting by not supporting our children, and enabling them to get an education? 
It is a question that is heavy in my mind, friends, and one of the reasons that I am a Baha'i. I like the emphasis on the education of children -- ALL children -- and the training of teachers to teach children at the neighbourhood level, as well as within the formal school system. Nevertheless, I would like to read more in the newspaper about positive changes in our education policies. The bottom up needs to work with the top down to be effective on a large scale. I wonder how long it will take our governments to start recognizing that educating our children is the best investment in the economy that they can make? The world, just like the incredible spider web that I photographed on the farm last week, is all interconnected. There is no way that the children who are so in need of educational opportunities that they willingly and happily come to my friend's home in Africa, or the youth that drop out of high school in many areas of the United States due to low expectations are not impacting the global community and the potential for global progress. Each one of them has potential that is not being given a chance to grow and develop, and eventually contribute back to society in a manner that is entirely unique to that individual.
What are your thoughts on opportunity and access to education? I would love to hear your experiences, reflections and ideas about this important topic. 
I hope you have a wonderful Thursday, friends! See you here Friday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joyful weekend madness

This past weekend made me very conscious of how much beauty I am surrounded by. On Friday I volunteered at Soil Born Farms. It was a gorgeous Fall day. The sky was (as usual!) clear blue; the air was crisp; the sky was filled with birds feasting on the remains of the harvest, and we had just over thirty fifth-graders on the farm. We started off our tour by learning about winter squash, which had just been harvested.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
The kids were excited to learn about the many varieties that are grown on the farm, and were especially enthusiastic about the pumpkins, and the idea of pumpkin pie!

After a tour of the farm, on which the kids got to pet the cows and the American Guinea Hogs, we divided the group into three groups. My group weeded the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce that we have planted with other groups over the last few weeks. While we harvested, I got to talk to the kids. The conversation went something like this:

Boy in my group: "Miss Ariana, wouldn't it be cool if there were a vacuum cleaner machine that you could put over the top of the bed and suck up all the weeds without pulling out the crop?"

Me: "Yes. But isn't it neat how when you take the time to hand weed, you get to notice little details about the vegetable plants that you wouldn't notice otherwise like how fast they are growing; whether they have insects on them, and which ones; whether they are getting enough water or too much; whether they look healthy or not?"

Boy: "No. I like the vacuum cleaner idea better."

Nevertheless, we did weed the entire bed of crops, and the kids did learn why this is important, and at the end of the day they gave a very well-articulated presentation to the other kids about the process. And despite the seeming lack of interest on the part of a number of the kids while we were working, at the end of the day I learned that for many of them, weeding was their favourite activity of the day.

Lesson of the day: Just because I think the kids' focus is wandering does not mean that they are not enjoying themselves and learning from the experience.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
Friday evening I joined friends for a devotional gathering. A devotional can be many things. Our devotional is a group of friends from a variety of backgrounds. We come together every Friday night to read prayers, poems, stories, passages and tablets. Anything that inspires. It is a re-filling of the soul time. A time for regathering of spiritual energies at the end of a long week, and preparation for a great weekend ahead. Often there is a theme. This past Friday the theme was purity. After devotions we usually head out for dinner together to enjoy good company and great food. This Friday the group voted for Indian. We had a long dinner that went on and on. So long in fact that the restaurant started locking up as we left. It was an evening of warmth and stories and lots of laughter.

On Saturday morning I volunteered at a children's education day and craft fair at Soil Born Farms. A friend of mine joined me, so the two of us pulled up on the farm at 8.30am, just as the warm sun was illuminating the dew tipped remains of the recently harvested crops. We spent the day making art with children. Cady made picture frames that the kids decorated with rice and beans. I painted prayer flags with the kids and hung them up to dry on a clothes line. There are few things as beautiful as all those brightly painted squares of fabric blowing on the line in the sunshine. At noon we packed everything up and were invited to join the farm staff for meal prepared using ingredients from the farm. We filled our plates with roasted vegetables, stewed vegetables, and butternut apple soup, and headed outside to  a long table set up beneath the wide green canopy of an enormous oak tree. Sitting at that table surrounded by old friends and new, with the blue sky above, and the golden light all around us I felt such an incredible sense of gratitude for the community that I have built around me, and that has welcomed me in this past year.

When I left the farm I headed further out of town to spend some time with one of my best friends, Deepali, who I have not been able to see in a number of months because she started a new job at a local hospital as a lab tech, and has such a crazy schedule of night shifts and day shifts that she is pretty much always too tired to get together. Her husband was out of town for a few days, so she called and asked if I would come out for a visit. Her home is beautiful -- it is a geodesic dome, which means it is round, and has light coming in from all angles, including the roof. The house is surrounded by old oak trees, and bordered by a pond on one side and a swimming pool on the other. Deepali and her husband Chad have planted fruit trees all around their property, Deepali planted a vegetable garden, and a group of us helped to renovate a barn on the property that is now being used by an artist friend of theirs to create works of great beauty.

Deepali and I spent our early evening at a local Vietnamese restaurant nursing bowls of rice noodles and vegetables in broth, and catching up on each other's news. Once we were all caught up we headed back to her place for her weekly fireside. A fireside is a gathering of people interested in learning more about the Baha'i faith. Deepali's fireside this week focused on what the Baha'i writings have to say about the nature of the soul. Often the group that turns up is large. This past Saturday however it was a small group of us. Myself and Deepali, Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, a couple who recently moved back from fifty years of serving the Baha'i community abroad in Israel and Latin America; Sholeh -- a lovely Persian woman who also served abroad in Israel; David -- a half Indian, half Mexican fellow who is investigating the Baha'i faith; and Dale -- a Mormon man who is exploring a variety of faiths. The seven of us spent most of the night reading quotes about the nature of the soul, and having an animated and deeply engaging discussion. At a little after ten it was discovered that Mr. Dunbar was the artist responsible for the gorgeous artwork covering all the walls, and that he had more artwork out in the barn, so the entire group migrated out to the barn to see more of his paintings. It was a night of many, many stories, connections, hot tea, cheesecake, and lots of laughter. By the end of it I was so tired that I ended up deciding to stay the night at Deepali's home and drive back to the city in the morning.

Sunday morning I flew back into Sacramento on the six lane highway that always makes me feel as if I am in a movie (I never thought I would live somewhere where I regularly drive on roads so large to get around) in time to get picked up by my dear friend Dionne for our morning tea date. She and her son Lucas and I headed off to a local coffee shop where we ordered soy chai lattes sprinkled with cinnamon, and headed outside to sip them in the morning sunlight. It was the perfect second start to the day.

At 2pm yesterday Dionne, her husband Todd, son Lucas and I migrated over to the park where a bunch of my friends were meeting up to play bocce ball and frisbee and horse shoe ringing. It was a great day to be outside, and we spent the next three hours alternately lying on a blanket and chatting, and running around on the grass. As the sun started sinking in the horizon we decided to go fill our bellies with Mexican food and then head back to Dionne's house for board games.

Last night, lying in bed, I was replaying the weekend, and realizing what an incredible life I have, and what a fun-loving group of friends I am surrounded by. It is often hard for me to believe that I have been here in Sacramento for over a year and a half now, but when I look around me at the community I have become a part of it is incredible that I have ONLY been here for a year and a half. I often take stock of my life by what I have accomplished with my work, discounting the human relationships. But I think the biggest accomplishments in my life over the past 18 months have been in the human relationship department. I have met SO many new people, and been welcomed into the lives of so many new friends. I have learned a great deal from all the children and youth that come to learn on the farm I volunteer on. I have learned a lot about farming in a more arid environment. I have learned loads about what it takes to give birth to and raise a happy, healthy child. I have become an active member of the Sacramento Baha'i community. I have struggled with, and am constantly re-negotiating and reinventing my relationship with my parents. And I have even learned how to maintain healthy friendships with folks back in Canada over a vast physical distance. It has been an amazing 18 months. I am looking forward to the start of the cooler weather, and to the winter ahead.

How about you, friends? When you look back over the last year, and take stock of what you have accomplished, are you amazed at how much you have accomplished? At how much love you have given and received? At the incredible community that embraces you, and that you can call home? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joy like water

This past spring I spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic helping to build a drinking water system in a rural, organic cocoa-farming community. It was a life-changing experience, but we had some pipes burst when we first turned the water on, and it took so long to fix the pipes that the group I was volunteering with ended up having to leave before the village we were staying in turned on their water taps, so we did not get to see the reaction of our hosts to having running water.

The pipes were fixed this summer, but I did not feel a sense of closure on the project until I received this photo, first thing this morning:

Followed by this photo:

Aren't they pure joy? Seeing these women, who welcomed us into their homes with such contentment on their faces gives me more joy than I felt the entire trip, and that is saying something, because I had a sublime two weeks in the Dominican Republic. When we left, the main satisfaction I felt was my own -- knowing that I had contributed to the process of making sure that the cocoa farmers would have clean drinking water. Knowing I had done my best. And of course the sheer enjoyment of the process of all that hard physical work we did, the incredible landscapes, and getting to know the local communities and my fellow volunteers. It was satisfying, but the satisfaction was all on a personal level.

Seeing these photographs is satisfying on a whole different level. This was the reason we went. To contribute to improving the quality of life for the people who produce the delicious cocoa that we all love so. People who welcomed us into their homes, and made us feel so much a part of the community while we were in La Laguna. Seeing their joy completes the circle. Contributing to the happiness of others really is the best, isn't it?

Wishing you a lovely Thursday, friends!  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday roots

Things I am feeling grateful for on this gloriously sunny Monday:

1. My volunteer work on the farm, and the opportunity to learn from and with children and youth outside while growing and harvesting organic food.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This photograph is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
2. My partner at crime on the farm, Guy. He is the director of education at Soil Born, and I not only enjoy working with him, I have learned an amazing amount about teaching kids and youth from him over the past seven and a half months.

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.
3. Writing dates with my dear friend and fellow writer, Ahava, who is a creativity and loving inquiry mentor in British Columbia, Canada. You can check her work out here.

4. Artwork. Our house usually has beautiful artwork on all the walls. Since we moved into this new place last summer we had not taken the time to hang all our artwork, and so the house just did not really feel like a home. This past weekend my mother and I fixed this by getting out a hammer and some nails and hanging colour all over our walls. The painting over the fireplace and the one by itself between the two chairs are both the work of my dear friend Louise Mould, back on Prince Edward Island. Aren't they gorgeous?

5. The Mary Oliver poetry reading I went to on Friday. There were close to 600 people there. She is getting rather frail, but once she made it to the podium she was all humour and stories, and inspired us all with her deep enjoyment of the process of sharing her poetry with her audience. She received a standing ovation from us at the end, and had the threatre raise the lights so that she could see all our faces and blow kisses to us. There is something extremely profound about seeing the impact that a writer like Mary Oliver has had on so many lives at this point in her career. It was deeply moving.

6. The grape vineyards of Napa Valley are all making the transition into Fall, the leaves all just starting to tinge red and orange at the edges. Unfortunately I was driving, and my designated photographer had some technical difficulties, but the rolling hills and patchwork quilt of vineyards in the fall were breathtaking.

This morning I woke up and wrote a short little poem as I began my day. I am grateful for the poem, the day, and looking forward to the evening, and the last golden rays that are leaning in my window at an angle now as I type. I will leave you with my little poem. What are you feeling grateful for today, friends?
There is something daring about morning sunlight--
The way it blazes unselfconsciously
Full of joy
Down through the layers of Fall leaves, setting every vein on fire,
through windows left unshaded,
its whisper calling out in sing-song tones, asking
What will you create today?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Listening to poetry

I am heading off to hear Mary Oliver read her poetry in Santa Rosa tomorrow, so thought I would end the week by sharing two of her poems. Mary Oliver is an incredible writer who has redefined our relationship to the natural world over and over again through her poetry. If you have not read her poetry before, I encourage you to google her, or go check some of her poetry out at your local library so you can hold its weight on the page between your palms as you read it. 
Whatever you do this weekend, I hope it includes moments of poetry, and the crisp beauty of the of Fall! Have a great weekend, friends!  
The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Sleeping in the Forest, by Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid-week compassion

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend." -Albert Camus

The past two weeks have been tough ones for me. I almost don't want to use the word "tough" anymore because the past year and a half since I left Canada have been tough, and I think I may have overused the word to the point where it has lost its meaning, but lets just say things have been hard in my universe. I have had an incredible number of amazing experiences, and have been surrounded by superb friends non-stop, which has made the challenges easier to bear, but they have not ceased to exist completely. I injured my neck two weeks ago doing an inversion yoga workshop, and my doctor recommended that I visit a chiropractor who specializes in adjusting the atlas -- the vertebrae right at the top of the spine -- one one that the scull sits on. I have been going to this specialist for two weeks now, and he has not yet managed to get the atlas to sit in the right place, so I have been feeling nauseated and having headaches on and off for two weeks straight. I have also been having stomach problems that my doctor has not been able to diagnose, which means that I have stomach aches on and off pretty much every day.

I have always had a strong body. Everything else could be falling apart, but my body was always right there for me, so coming to terms with the pain and uncertainty the last two weeks has left me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.

I also decided this past week that I was setting a deadline for finding work for January. By January I want to have steady work again. In order to take steps towards making that a reality, I delivered job applications to the only large (hiring) bookstore in the city, and the local food coop, in the hope that they might offer me at least part time work.

So far neither my job applications nor my doctor appointments have proven successful in accomplishing my goal of become both employed and healthy. Today I got home from a doctors appointment and collapsed onto my couch with a box of tissues. I felt like playing "it's my party and i'll cry if I want to" (for the record, I didn't ;-)).

Fortunately my dad is on vacation right now, and he witnessed my complete meltdown and knew it was time for some compassion. He told me to grab my bag and my dark sunglasses, and meet him in the car. When I finally made it out to the car with my wad of tissues, he announced that we were going out for burgers. I looked at him like he was crazy. "Dad, it's 3.30 in the afternoon," I said. "Nobody will still be serving lunch at this hour." "This is California," he said to me. "We will find somewhere." So we drove to a (practically empty) restaurant that was serving, and ordered burgers and fries. My dad just sat there with me. He didn't try to be funny or attempt to make me feel better. He knew I was at the end of my tether, and just needed a good meal in my belly and the presence of someone who cared. We ate mostly in silence, and by the time we were done I was feeling a good deal better. He drove me home, confident that I would be able to make it through the rest of the day (I did. And managed to get work done before the end of the work day, which given my state earlier, was a tremendous accomplishment).

This evening I had a date to talk with my dear friend Ahava on the phone. But by dinner my head was hurting so much that I didn't even feel like supper, let alone chatting on the phone. I sent an email to Ahava telling her that I was not up to our chat, and asking if we could postpone it til another day. Fortunately she did not get my email, and at the designated time, the phone rang. I started our conversation by telling her that I was not sure I was up for our chat, but within the first two minutes of our conversation, I could tell that I talking with Ahava was exactly what I needed to be doing. We talked for about an hour, sharing our news and accomplishments, our fears and challenges, our hopes and plans and moments of joy and vulnerability and uncertainty. Best of all, we laughed. We always do.

Talking with Ahava, and my dad's kindness today reminds me that sometimes when I am trying my hardest, and nothing seems to be working, the best thing to do is show myself a little compassion. Laugh. Take a bath. Make myself a cup of tea. Call a girlfriend who knows that I am not all disaster and disintegration -- that I can laugh at life and myself, that I am continuing to do my best even when there are few visual indications that I am making progress...I tend to be very self-critical, and remembering to just "be," as Ahava says, is so vital to regaining balance when the equilibrium has been upset.

I am working on editing three poems to send off to a poetry competition on Friday. It is the first time I am submitting poems to anything in a few years, and I have been so nervous about it that I kept putting it off and putting it off. This afternoon, after my hamburger outing with my father, I edited my second poem. On Friday I will send the poems off.

I was speaking with Ahava this evening about baby steps. Sometimes, I am realizing, baby steps are actually giant. This week just getting through the work week is going to be a major accomplishment. Sending off my packet of poems is going to be truly monumental.

In this world where success is measured by constant growth, and rewarded with even more work, it is hard to give ourselves permission to just "be." To admit that our bodies are not always going to function perfectly, and that even if we try our hardest, sometimes things just do not work out the way we had hoped. I have always been someone who, when looking around me at people who had no work, or did not enjoy the work they had, or were not earning enough, etc, etc, always assumed that they were just not trying hard enough. That I should encourage them to just keep trying. I see now that this assumption was simply ignorance. I also see that often the best thing that I can offer others who are going through a hard time is my friendship and compassion.

I almost did not write a blog entry today. I didn't know what to say, and the idea of sharing how I was really feeling today seemed unwise. Who, I thought to myself, would want to read about more challenge in a world full of so much of it already? But you know what? I think we do need to start allowing ourselves to be more human. To be honest about the fact that we have times when we can go it alone, and times when we need the support and encouragement of friends and family. It is part of being human.

How do you show compassion for yourself when you are having a tough day? How do you treat people who cross your path who are obviously struggling? Can you treat yourself and everyone who crosses your path a greater degree of compassion? Give it a try over the next week. See if it changes your experience of life and relationships. I would love to hear your reflections if you care to share. Have a lovely, compassionate-filled Thursday, Friends.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apples & giving thanks

It has been a lovely weekend. Warm, sunny, clear blue skies. The perfect weekend to head out of town to Apple Hill to enjoy the apple harvest, and the endless list of apple-related foods and drinks that the creative apple-growers in this region have come up with. I have been very conscious this weekend that if I were in Canada I would have been sitting around a table enjoying a thanks-giving meal with my nearest and dearest friends, and the awareness that so many of my friends north of the border were gathered together celebrating made me more conscious of how grateful I am for all the amazing experiences and people in my life right now. 

On Friday evening a group of friends gathered at the home of a couple who are quickly becoming two of my favourite people out here, Dionne and Todd. Their seven month old son Lucas is the most handsome man in my life at the moment, and I am blessed to get to spend social time with their family every week. This past Friday myself and a few other friends gathered at their home to enjoy devotions. The readings were chosen my another new friend who recently moved back to the US from Thailand. After devotions we ordered Thai food, and the men went out to pick up our feast. We filled our bellies with chicken curry noodles, steamed rice, coconut milk and seafood soup, and spicy apple salad, and sipped on sweet, creamy Thai iced tea. We shared stories of recent trips a few people had been on, watched a slide show of wedding photos from Todd and Dionne's gorgeous wedding. We shared exciting news and future plans and funny stories. We laughed. A lot. And we played Super Mario Brothers, which most of us had not seen since we were in elementary school -- blast from the past. When I finally collapsed into bed at close to 2am Saturday morning, I had a smile on my lips and joy filling my chest. 

On Saturday afternoon I met up with a few of the same group for tea at a local coffee shop that has an outdoor patio. We sat in the sunshine and chatted and enjoyed the Fall afternoon. The breeze. The warmth of the Fall sun. Mugs of hot, creamy chai tea. 

Saturday evening I had a lovely phone conversation with my soul sister Pascale, over in New Zealand. Our conversation was short and sweet, and reminded me yet again how vital it is to have friendships that not only inspire me and make me laugh at myself and at life, but that remind me the depth of connection that is possible between human beings when we connect not only intellectually and emotionally, but also at the level of the soul. That spiritual connection completely redefines relationships -- what they are, and what they can be-- and makes them so much more fulfilling and transformational.    

Yesterday I was again surrounded by friends, this time out exploring the foothills and a region called Apple Hill -- an apple-producing region famous for its colourful fall foliage, great apple picking and hot apple cider in October; pumpkin picking and pumpkin pie in November; and Christmas trees in December. We meandered our way between farms, enjoying the sloping hills, the trees heavy with sweet, crunchy apples; the sun bright and warm. Along the way we enjoyed cups of hot apple cider; freshly made, hot apple cider doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon; hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and apple cider milkshakes. On the way home we stopped at a charcuterie where I got myself an apple sausage, which was divine. It was a day of leisure and laughter. Of more stories. Of getting to know the people around me more deeply....and of very full, very happy bellies! 

When I climbed into bed last night I felt tremendously grateful for the incredible community of friends that I am surrounded by. This year has been a hard one, but no matter what has been happening around me, I have always been surrounded by incredible friends -- friends that I have just met since arriving in California; friends that I have known for years and years who stay in touch by email and hand-written letters; and friends from Canada who have remained a joyful and supportive part of my life out here in California despite being so far away physically.

Today it is raining. Pouring, really. It has been raining and raining, all day long, and I am LOVING it! As you head into this new week, try to be conscious of all the incredible people that you share not only a physical/emotional/intellectual relationship with, but also a spiritual relationship. The people who remind you to be silly. The ones who turn up to eat Thai food with you on cold nights. The ones who beat you at video games for hours on end, but whose company you enjoy so much that you forget that you have lost every game you have played all night. The ones who give you the opportunity to take care of, love, and learn from their children. The ones who sit and pray with you. The ones who believe in you no matter what. The ones who invite you over for hot cups of tea. The ones you sat around a thanks giving table and enjoyed a delicious meal with (or will be doing so with some time soon!). The ones you enjoy hot apple pie and steaming cider with....I hope this week is full of good times with people whose company you love, and who love and appreciate you in return. Happy gratitude Monday, friends! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pink roses & crunchy leaves

When I woke up this morning, I could tell something was different. I had to be up early to give my mother a ride to the courthouse to do her jury duty, so I was up earlier than usual. When I got home I did not feel like starting work just yet. The rain had stopped, the sun had come out. The air had that nutty, earthy smell that it gets right after it has rained after many months of no rain at all. A cool breeze was blowing. The air was crisp as freshly picked Fall apples. I had a little over an hour before I had to head off to meet some girlfriends for a birthday brunch, so I grabbed my camera and headed out to enjoy the gorgeous Fall day.

Up until today it felt as though Fall was tentatively dipping her toes into the idea of making an entrance. But today she took full stage. There were leaves strewn across lawns, in all the gutters and along fences. As I wandered along the pavement I inhaled deeply. The aroma of sweet wood burning in someone's fireplace filled my lungs. Birds called from the highest branches of a redwood. Blossoms knocked from the branches of bushes lay strewn across the pavement like giant pink and white snowflakes. Even though it is fall, roses still cascaded down over brick walls. I love the contrast of roses in full bloom and leaves turning golden. It seems so unlikely. There are few places in the world where blossoms and dying leaves share visual space.

Up above, the Turkey Vultures were gliding in the blue sky.

I have mentioned this before, but Sacramento is known as the city of trees. It lives up to its name. The entire city is covered in trees. The area I live in is especially blessed with gorgeous, big, old trees.

The large number of old, giant trees means you have to watch where you park during storms (cars getting crushed by tree limbs is a regular occurrence here), but it also makes for incredibly good tree-climbing and beautiful light and foliage in the Fall. Like something out of a painting.

And of course, when you have that many trees, you also have squirrels. This little fella was checking me out. Or maybe he was posing. From beneath, the leaves looked like stained glass or as though they were burning and glowing from the light of the sun filtering down through them.

By the time I started for home, I had a huge grin on my face. I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day, and a gorgeous Fall. I made sure to crunch through some leaves on my way home. I love the sound and feeling of crunchy leaves beneath my feet.

I enjoyed brunch with friends late morning, and this evening I took part in a women's devotional on the theme of happiness. I shared my experience of sheer joy from my morning walk with the others. Fall is officially here. As I write this, I am listening to rain drumming on the roof shingles. I cannot wait to wake up tomorrow, bundle myself up, and head out to study the Baha'i writings with a friend of mine while we sip tea. What do you enjoy most about the Fall where you live?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Didn't even have to dance

When I woke up this morning the sky was blue, as per usual. More of the same. a.k.a: B.O.R.I.N.G. I am ready to wear scarves again. Ready for hats as fashion statements rather than just avoidance of the intensely hot summer sun. I am ready for the sound of rain.

So you can imagine my immense pleasure this afternoon when the clouds started rolling in, and my absolute joy at the current state of affairs in the heavens -- a solid gray sky. Not ONE sliver of blue. My Canadian friends always told me that even the tiniest patch of blue was a sure sign that the sky would eventually clear, so surely the complete absence of blue from the palette of the sky today is a guarantee that there is no chance of the sun popping out and ruining a perfectly nice gray day. Right? Who knows. Maybe it will even start raining. 

This past weekend I did yoga with over 250 fellow yogis at a local park to raise money for a number of great initiatives in eastern Africa. We did 108 sun salutations in a row, which took just about three hours, and managed to raise over $7,000. It feels great to know that a number of yoga and educational projects in Africa will be able to progress and grow as a result of our heading out on Saturday morning to practice yoga together. I also discovered new muscles that I never knew I had, which, in the long-run, once I am able to lift my arms again, and regain full use of my legs, will seem like a truly great experiential education lesson in human biology, I'm sure. :-)

Below is a shot of the crew that joined me out in the park on Saturday. Our mantra was ONENESS. SERVICE and LOVE. That we are all one, and have a mutual responsibility to each other as members of a single human race; that we are here to serve one another through deeds, not just words, and that love is the answer. The spirit of the day was deeply empowering, and there was a distinct feeling that we were all working together, supporting each other to do all 108 sun salutations, rather than each of us being on her or his mat practicing in isolation.

Aren't all the colours gorgeous? Unity in diversity in action!!

The wind has started blowing outside. More signs of the advancing Fall. This evening, after I get home from a meeting of the Local Spiritual Assembly (the local administrative body of the Baha'i community of Sacramento), I am looking forward to immersing myself back into my current novel: The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. It is about the relationship between Earnest Hemingway and his first wife, and is very well written. The only thing that detracts from the story is my knowledge of the fact that this was, in fact, his first wife, and that it therefore cannot possibly have a happy ending; and that of course Hemingway eventually commits suicide in real life, so the relationship that lies at the heart of this novel, and one of its main characters, are both eventually going to die. Rather sad, really. But McLain has done an excellent job of stepping into the psyches of both main characters and seeing the world through their eyes, which is a great accomplishment -- to be able to bring the reader into dialogue with Hemingway the real human being rather than simply the brilliant author idol that most of us today see him as.

Reading The Paris Wife is helping me to realize how much more energy I need to be putting into my own creative writing if I ever want to succeed. Writing, as Paula McLain says through her characters, is an extremely lonely profession, but trying to make it less so by socializing too much, joining writing groups, or other types of activities that theoretically should reduce a writer's isolation, may accomplish this, but it also often undermines the quality and quantity of the work that the artist is creating. I have been out and about a bit too much lately, and while I am enjoying my social life immensely, I have been noticing that I am not accomplishing as much lately as I would like to be with my writing.

Tomorrow I do not have to go out. I am looking forward to an entire day devoted to writing. Maybe some rain. Maybe some wind. Definitely a hot cup of tea. Maybe a dunking biscuit. I am hoping for the rhythmic lulling of rain as I fall asleep. Happy nestling into Autumn Monday, friends! 

Oooooh. Here comes the rain just as I am about to post this! And I didn't even have to do the rain dance!