About Me

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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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Island girl

As I sit and write this entry, the wind is howling around the house outside. I arrived on Prince Edward Island last night a little after midnight. You know when you were so excited about something as a child that you could not *wait* to get to whatever it was that you were so revved up about? That would have been me when I climbed down the stairs from the plane out onto the island last night, and made like a mad woman for the doors into the arrival area. My dear friends Paul and Alanna were there waiting for me...they had stayed up to come get me from the airport. We bundled into their car and came back to their home for hot tea and a long chat that kept us up into the early hours of the morning.

Last night I lay in bed and watched the sky through the windows--lit up by the brightness of winter. The wind blew and blew, and I lay awake for a long time thinking to myself how good it was to hear the power of the winter wind again.

Eventually I fell asleep, and woke this morning, got ready, and headed out with my dear friend Alanna to get breakfast at a local greasy spoon that was jam-packed with islanders. It was the perfect way to start the day. Alanna is one of those friends who I can talk to for hours and hours, and we somehow never run out of things to share. We share stories, thoughts, ideas, fears, dreams, and most of all lots and lots of laughter. I have been laughing all day long. Our breakfast lasted three hours. When we finally dragged ourselves out of the booth we had taken up residence in, we decided to head out to the house she recently bought in the country to have tea. It was a migrating conversation if you will! We bundled up and headed outside into the icy wind, hobbling across the icy patches of the parking lot and jumping into the car, all giggles and joy. There is something about truly freezing weather that you just have to laugh about. Today it was -18 windchill, which, if you live in California, is bloody cold, but not nearly as cold as it can get here in the middle of winter.

We headed out to her home in the country. The road had ice and snow all along it, so we drove slowly, giddy with the excitement of the day and with our little escape from the reality of the world for a full day. We finally reached the turning for the house, turned in past the little mailbox, and drove up the dirt driveway to the house. The home she and her husband just bought is a rather old house, and has all the charm of a small, storybook house out in the country. It has a barn and a few tiny cottage-like buildings on the property, wood floors, lots of windows that look out across the fields to the west, and a wood-burning stove. Alanna immediately got to work stoking the stove, and got a fire going while I made tea. We brought two chairs in front of the stove and sat down to our steaming mugs of sweet almond tea. The sky through the windows that stretched along the whole western wall stretched out in bands of rose and violet. The earth was dark with shadow and dampness. Reeds outside the window rustled hollowly against the panes of glass. It was so peaceful. Alanna and I talked and laughed, sipped our tea, and warmed our hands by the heat of the fire. It was such a magical evening. As the last light was fading we decided it was time to head back to town to get some groceries and then go back to her house where I had promised to cook Alanna and Paul a hot, belly-filling supper.

I cooked pasta with mushroom red sauce sprinkled with cheese, and salad. It was a simple but hearty meal-- the kind of meal that is perfect on a cold night in December. The company was excellent. The wind howled outside. After supper I made tea, and we sat around the table getting caught up on work that each of us needed to get done. Now I am sitting here alone. Alanna and Paul have headed to bed. The wind is still howling. I find it calming in a familiar sort of way. The sound of an old friend whispering a poem I have heard many times--one that slows my heartbeat and assures me that everything--everything is exactly as it should be in this moment. Such is the song of the PEI wind.

I never thought I would say that I am happy to be home about this island, but that is how I feel. The muscle-relaxing peacefulness even in frigid temperatures, the laughter that has been playing upon my lips all day, and the sense that some sense of rightness has been restored in my world. I am home, and whether it is for an extended stay or a short visit, it feels really, really good, friends!

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a night rich with dreams, wrapped with the sounds of winter, and that joy is bubbling up plentiful in your chest!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Some of my peeps from PEI that I will be seeing soon!
It is Tuesday evening. Tomorrow morning I will be rising at around 2.30am to get ready to head off to the airport. It is nice to be leaving a house that is still inhabited by people instead of an home emptied of furniture as is often what I see when I glance back into a space I am leaving. It has been a productive day--I think there is actually some chance of my actually getting to bed early enough to get some shut-eye before I have to be up and on the go again.

The next few days promise to be full of awesome people, joy, snow, and lots of hot tea, and I promise to share as much of my travels with you as I can, keeping in mind that also want to focus my attention on the present moment and enjoying the company of so many close friends. 

I had planned on blogging every day this month. That was before I booked this trip. I have been thinking about whether to take my computer with me on this trip, and have decided that I am going to take it, but that I may or may not be blogging every day that I am away. You will notice a definite silence tomorrow. This is because I will be in the air, en-route to Prince Edward Island from six in the morning until midnight (or 4am, if you are in California!). I will try to post at least a few times while I am away to keep you updated on all of my winter adventures!

Thank you all for being such supportive readers over the last few weeks and months! I bid you goodnight from California! More from snowy PEI!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing day gratitude

It is boxing day, and I have spent the entire day out gathering last minute things for my upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island. I have not been feeling very well, so whereas I might ordinarily have been on a pre-departure high two days before leaving for a big trip, today I was trying to navigate the *please let me not be getting sick before this trip* waters, and drinking masses of vitamin-C enriched water.

But I digress. This is gratitude Monday, and so here is what I am feeling grateful for today:

1. My mother, who spent her entire day running errands with me because she knew I was not feeling well, and wanted to be sure I got everything done before taking off without over-stressing myself.

2. The fact that I have had three delicious meals today with people I love in a cozy, heated home.

3. The fact that I own a functional suitcase, and therefore did not have to add that to my already rather long list of errands to run today.

4. The generosity of the family and friends who have enabled me to make this trip in the first place.

5. The recognition that there is an entire community of people on the other side of the continent in whose company I feel completely at home, and that are happy to welcome me into their homes for my time back on the island.

6. The technology that is going to get me safely from this side of the continent all the way to the other side in a single (albeit very long!) day.

7. An in-house washing machine and dryer so that I do not have to be sitting in a cold laundromat tonight washing my clothes.

8. The presence of a warm bed just a couple of feet to my left that I am going to collapse into as soon as I finish this blog post.

That is my list for today, friends! What are you feeling grateful for on this chilly Monday? I wish you all a good night!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A quiet Christmas day

"Jesus Christ was an Educator of humanity. His teachings were altruistic; His bestowal, universal. He taught mankind by the power of the Holy Spirit and not through human agency, for the human power is limited, whereas the divine power is illimitable and infinite." -Abdu'l-Baha
It is Christmas day, and I seem to be getting sick. Still, my parents wanted to get out of the house and take a walk, so we bundled up and headed over to Davis to take a walk through the Botanical gardens at the University of California at Davis. It was a slightly overcast day when we set out on our walk. The waterway we walked along was dark and speckled with fallen oak leaves. There was no breeze blowing. It was very still. We walked along reading the placards in front of every plant and the descriptions of what the place we were walking through used to be like. Apparently the land that the university sits on used to belong to Native peoples, and the section of the garden we were in seemed to be devoted to their communities. The descriptions of what the area was like about two hundred years ago were evocative. The air full of smoke from women cooking in a camp, the sound of the water moving along next to their camp, and the complete absence of roads or cement. As we walked along I tried to imagine it. It was hard to imagine, as the strip of vegetation along both sides of the water is now surrounded on both sides by buildings and roads as far as the eye can see. It is amazing to me that only two hundred years ago Native people still lived in this place in relative peace, surrounded by the uninterrupted wide open valley landscape. How much the place has changed in such a short period of time. 
After our walk we drove up and down the abandoned streets of Davis looking for somewhere to get a hot drink. We were unsuccessful. Not one place open. So we headed back into Sacramento and repeated the process, only to find that in the entire city of Sacramento only one coffee shop (that we could find) was open. It was packed, but we managed to snag a table, and settled in for a hot drink and a chat. This evening, after dinner, we are planning on checking out War Horse
Wherever you are, friends, and whatever you are doing this Christmas day, I wish you a joy-filled day, and a warm evening with family and friends! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A day that was not supposed to happen

"Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone. Let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path." Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 15-16

Today did not go at all how I had envisioned, and I am feeling grateful that it didn't. You know how sometimes things do not happen the way you had hoped, but because the things you had hoped would happen did not, a space opened for what you were intended to do? Well that was my Christmas eve. I was supposed to be spending most of my day with a close friend. We were going to go out for Thai food, and then go sit in a coffee shop with our books and read. It was to be epically lazy, filled with laughter and coziness. At a quarter to eleven, when my friend called, I was all ready to go with my coat on and hat and scarf ready by the front door. She was calling to say she was running late by an hour. I took off my coat, made tea, and sat and had a conversation with my mother in the kitchen while I waited. About an hour later my phone rang again. My friend apologized profusely, but she had just found out that her aunt in India had passed away, and was going to have to call her family instead of coming into town. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Most of my friends are out of town for the holidays, and I had a feeling that the few friends that are in town were already busy--I called around, but I was right -- everyone who was in town was busy doing their own thing today.

The Universal House of Justice, the international administrative body for the Baha'i community writes letters to the Baha'i world on a regular basis. Some of these are longer than others. The letters bring Baha'is all over the world up to date on what is happening, where we are headed as a global community, and what learning has been taking places around the world. On December 12th the House of Justice released a new letter. A copy of the letter has been sitting on my bedside table for a number of days now. I have skimmed it, but have been wanting to sit down and really read and reflect on its contents. With the unexpected time this afternoon I made myself a cup of tea, settled into my nest with pillows and a blanket, and immersed myself in the letter for a couple of hours, taking notes in the margins and underlining points that seemed especially poignant. When I finished the letter I was feeling really excited about the ways in which the Baha'i community is bringing about positive change all over the world, and excited for what lies ahead, and the ways that I can participate in community development at the local level.

Shortly after I finished reading the letter the phone rang. It was my dear friend Rafael from Arizona who was calling me from her parents' farm in Prescott, where she is spending her Christmas break from he PhD program. Rafael and I had a lovely chat, caught up on the latest in each others' lives, and wished each other safe travels -- she is headed to spend the southern summer with her boyfriend in Chile, and I am headed to PEI, Canada for a short visit.

I hung up the phone from my conversation with Rafael, and immediately received a text message from my friend Mariela. She and her husband David have a tradition of collecting winter clothes -- scarves, hats, gloves, sweaters/sweatshirts and coats, making care packages, and distributing the packages to homeless people around the city. She was calling to say that David was not feeling all that well tonight, and would I be interested in joining her. I texted back immediately that *of course* I was interested, and before I knew it she was ringing my doorbell, her car stocked not only with warm clothing, but with hot chocolate and individually wrapped home-baked cookies (I'm telling you--the woman rocks). We loaded into the car and took off, driving along as slow as we could in search of homeless people throughout the city. When we would spot someone we would pull over, roll down a window, and ask if they would be interested in a care package, some hot chocolate and a cookie. We meandered around the city, leaping out of the car and handing out clothing, hot chocolate and cookies to some very grateful folks. One woman, after receiving her hot chocolate and cookie, looked and me and said: "can I have a hug?" I was rather shocked by her question, and a little uncertain, but I said "sure," and leaned in and embraced her. She latched onto me, started crying and repeating "I've missed you so much" over and over, and wouldn't let go. Standing on the sidewalk hugging this woman whose every earthly possession was in a pile behind her both terrified and moved me deeply. I tried to pull away a couple of times, but she kept holding on, so I finally gave in a just stood there holding her. Finally she released her hold on me enough for me to pull back. She looked up at me and said "thank you so much." I stood there on the sidewalk feeling a little shaken, but more than being shaken, I was deeply saddened by the fact that this woman quite obviously is suffering from mental illness, and that she also has obviously lost someone that she loved very much. I also felt saddened by the fact that she quite clearly is rarely spoken to or touched by anyone, and that she both needs to give love to and receive love from other human beings, and this is not happening--at least not as often as it should be. 

Mariela and I made a few last stops as the evening turned into night, and the shadows grew much longer, and people became much harder to see. We looked for lumps on the sidewalk-- lumps that could have been heaps of garbage. It shook me to my core to realize that often we had to literally get out of the car and walk up to a dark pile on the pavement before we knew whether it was a person or garbage. What kind of a community do we live in, in which people are allowed to become so degraded that they become indistinguishable from garbage at a distance? It is obvious that we as individuals and as a community are failing to put the quote at the beginning of this blog post into practice when a man or woman is allowed to lie on the pavement in a heap covered in dirt, cold and hungry, when just behind them Christmas trees glow in windows and families eat delicious meals and share warmth, laughter and love.

I did not grow up in a place that had homeless people. There just weren't any, or if there were I never saw them. When I first encountered homeless people in North America I was shocked and terrified. Fear is what I felt most. It is a fear that I have carried with me ever since. I smile and greet most homeless people that I pass on the street, but I hold a deep hope as I do so that they will not speak to me, or harm me. I find the erratic behaviour of many homeless people--caused by drug or alcohol abuse and/or mental health issues--to be scary. I am not sure why. I have a close friend in Arizona who was always deeply kind to homeless people we would pass on the street. She would always stop to speak with them, and show them some affection. I always wished I could be more like her-- less fearful of what I did not know or could not understand, and more open to allowing love and kindness to fill the space ordinarily filled by fear. 

When Mariela invited me to join her today my immediate internal response was "no way! I can't do that!" The reason for this reaction was my own fear. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that this was an opportunity to not only help a friend and bring some joy into the lives of people who lead very hard lives, but also a chance to confront and start overcoming my own prejudices and fears, because how can I ever love someone if I fear them? The answer was clear: I can't. Being afraid of someone is a barrier to love--one that we can rationalize, but a barrier nonetheless.

I came home tonight feeling really thankful for the opportunity to overcome my own fears and just get out there and give to others. Yes we did encounter a couple of men this evening whose aggressive behaviour made me feel fear, but out of the more than 24 people we handed care packages, hot chocolate and cookies to, only two made me uncomfortable. All the rest were kind, gentle, and grateful for our care packages. Some of them told us a little about what it was like to live on the street. Some talked about loneliness. Some told us that the care package was the best thing that has happened to them in a while, and that maybe things were starting to look up.

The day did not go as I had planned, but I learned many important lessons tonight about unity and love. I am hoping that next time I pass someone who is homeless I can look them in the eye, smile, and give them my love without looking away or crossing the street out of discomfort or fear. It is hard to confront my own fears and prejudices head-on, recognize them honestly for what they are, and then keep moving forward anyway. But if I want to live in a community characterized by love and kindness, I do not see any other option. My community is a reflection of who I am, who you are, who all our friends and family are. If we want a community characterized by love we must show love --to everyone, not just those we find it easy to love.

How about you, friends? Have you come up against the limitations of your own fears lately? How did you confront and overcome your limitations?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two days before Christmas, a.k.a. Friday.

Three of my favourite people on PEI
It is two days before Christmas, also known as Friday. I am curled up with a duvet, mug of chamomile tea, cinnamon raisin toast with almond butter on it, and lots of pillows. I am having a pampered day that began with an exceptionally long shower, a deep-tissue massage by my friend Rick Schneider with Alpha Concepts Massage and Bodywork (heavenly), and lunch with my mother. After lunch I went to pick up a new novel that was waiting for me at the library, Someone Knows My Name (will let you know how it is), and then came home to curl up and write my blog entry.

All around me the world is in a Christmas preparation tizzy. The traffic is insane. It takes over an hour to get to places that I can usually reach in twenty minutes. Shoppers are out in full-force. It always feels a little odd to not have plans at Christmas time. When my grandparents were alive we used to get a Christmas tree because they were Christian, but now my mom gets a new door wreath every December. In comparison with most of the other houses on our street a door wreath just doesn't cut it, but trying to convince my mother that we should put Christmas lights in our windows would take 'til at least mid-February, so I am learning to content myself with the wreath.

My life this past week has been entirely focused on work and saving up for my last-minute upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island. I am really looking forward to my trip, and to getting to spend some quality time with some of my favourite people in the whole world. I have favourite people all over the world, but the highest concentration of them are on a little island in Atlantic Canada, which just goes to show that cold climates really do nurture warm hearts. The idea of being in Prince Edward Island with some of my closest friends for two weeks makes me so happy I can barely type. The fact that visiting PEI is the highlight of my holiday season throws my celebrations slightly out of sync with pretty nearly everyone around me, but to be honest I'm perfectly fine with that. This Christmas weekend will be a mellow one in our house. I am imagining lots of tea, maybe a meal out, a movie, games, dessert....more tea. You get the picture. There will be no present-exchange in our home. Being Baha'is, exchanging gifts at Christmas is not part of our tradition. But we will say some prayers to commemorate the birth of Christ, and join in what is, to me, the most important part of this holiday--quality time with family.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are up to this holiday season, I hope you are having a brilliant time! Happy two days before Christmas, friends!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Leaves will never look the same again

 Those of you who have been reading my blog for the last three days know that I have spent my week raking leaves at the home of a girlfriend of mine who lives on a piece of property that is has enough trees that by the time I left at the end of the day today, the spot I had raked Monday was completely carpeted in leaves again. As I raked and raked....and raked, a lovely refreshing breeze blew, sending a steady shower of golden leaves circling earthward. It did not take me long to realize that having any part of her property completely leaf-free for more than a minute or two was impossible. I had to content myself with the momentary satisfaction that at least for today my hours of hard work had cleared enough of the leaves off of the lawn between the house and the pond that the grass looked green again instead of brown. Hey--you count your blessings where you can. I opted not to go back and inspect the pool area that I spent two days clearing leaves from. It looked beautiful yesterday, and that's how I want to remember it!! I always wondered why our Mexican gardeners move through our property like a tornado and are gone again before I know it. Now I know. If they stuck around their work would be undone before they had a chance to savour a job well done. Point taken. I want to say next time I take a raking job I will be sure to remember the key to successful raking: rake and run--preferably never to return. But that means there will be a next time, and to be honest for the past couple of days whenever I see leaves (and the city is truly inundated with them right now), I shudder. Don't get me wrong. Work is work, and I would much rather be working outside where I am exercising and getting lots of fresh air. But there is a certain degree of futility about raking that I have not yet made peace with. I mean what is the point, if it is going to look exactly the way it did before I started within a day or two?

Anyway. I took a few shots of my Mount Olympus to share with you, and to reassure myself that all the hard work DID actually accomplish something, just in case I go back to the house for a visit in a week or so and find all the surfaces I cleared completely covered in leaves again. It is more a plateau now, as I couldn't reach the top to keep piling it up, so it grew outwards.

So here is Plateau Olympus. She looks smaller than she is, I assure you ;-)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I think the land prays

Photo by Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
Today was day three of leaf-raking at the home of a friend who has a good-sized property in Granite Bay. I left early to beat the traffic, coming out to find the car completely covered in a thick layer of frost and the entire city immersed in a heavy fog that enveloped everything and made me feel like I was driving through the scene from a detective novel. I got on the highway, joining the rush of traffic headed east, the fog still hovering close around me, making everything except what was immediately in front of me invisible. I drove a good portion of the way to Granite Bay in the fog, but then all of a sudden the road must have reached a higher elevation, because I came around a corner and in front of me the sky was clear and the sun was a crisp round warm pineapple yellow ball in the sky. It was so perfect, so low on the horizon and so easy to look at that my initial response was surprise that the moon was still so low on the horizon. The sun looked like a harvest moon, full and warm like a ripe peach growing riper by the minute. It took my breath away.

I arrived at my destination, pulled on my rubber boots and headed out to the fruit orchard for my rake and tarp. Every blade of grass was encased in ice, and as I headed up over the hill the sun broke across the neighbour's fence and slanted across the orchard, catching the frosted landscape at just the right angle to make everything appear to be radiating a soft, brilliant light. It was breathtakingly beautiful--the kind of view that I just *know* is a little gift from above -- the Big Boss upstairs was smiling down on me this morning (wonder what I did to deserve that?! ;-))

The frost slowly faded as I worked, but the beauty of how I began my day has stayed with me all day long. Fortunately I took my camera with me today, and was smart enough to stop and allow the shutter to clatter closed around the image of light hitting frost, so I wanted to share it with you here.

One of my favourite things is to sit with someone I love and hear/see them pray. It is like I am witnessing them at their most tender, vulnerable, honest and most beautiful because their soul is in conversation with its Creator. I think the land also prays sometimes--reflecting the perfection and beauty of its Creator in moments like I witnessed this morning, when it thinks nobody is watching. What do you think? ;-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It is a little after 10pm in my world, but if I were going to guess the time based on how I feel, I would say it has got be be nearing 2am. I spent the day today raking leaves again--shaking out vines impacted with leaves, sweeping layer upon layer of dry leaves off of benches, raking and sweeping piles of leaves into piles and then hauling them off across the yard, through the damp grass, up a slight incline next to the pool cabana at the home I am doing yard work at, past the woodpile, to be deposited atop the ever-growing mountain of leaves that is to become a compost pile. I call it Mount Olympus :-) because as I watch it grow in both height and width, I feel a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I imagine it is somewhat like what an ant must feel when it moves an entire ant hill from one spot to another, one grain of earth at a time.

I am doing yard work at the home of one of my best friends. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that when I take a break, we get to hang out--have lunch, drink tea, munch on gluten free gingersnaps. It is a pretty sweet deal really. The sky as my office, and one of my best friends as my lunch break companion. I cannot complain.

As I work moving piles of leaves, the landscape around me is changing. I love work that involves physical, visual results daily, and I have to say that although this three-day leaf-raking gig may be sufficient to ward off any desire for golden days of raking piles of rusty, crunchy leaves for a very long time (as in the rest of my life kind of long time), I am really enjoying the physical demands of yard work for these three days. It kind of reminds me of farming in that I have to pace myself, and be consistent. I try to set a pace that I can maintain for at least three hours at a time without keeling over. Once I have been doing daily physical work for a while I can maintain my pace without feeling pain in my body -- I just feel challenged and engaged. But after many months of spending my days writing, my body is feeling the effects of the last two days profoundly tonight. The idea of going back for a third day of yard work makes me want to groan. Not because I do not want to do it-- I very much do, and I know I will enjoy myself once I get started, but getting my sore body up and working hard again for a third day in a row is not going to be easy, I can already tell.

This evening after supper with my friend I headed out to haul the last load of leaves over to Mount Olympus. Darkness was heavy, and the grass whispered against my rubber boots as I pulled the bulging tarp along the ground. In the fading light I became more aware of the sounds of the night -- a family of coyotes out on the prowl were howling and barking nearby. Two lone geese called out as they sailed past above. Crickets throbbed. I stood in the fruit orchard for a few minutes listening to the arrival of the night before turning to go back inside to warm my hands by the heat of the wood-burning furnace and enjoy a hot cup of tea. Walking back to the house, my arms heavy, hair damp with hard work and legs tired, I smiled. I felt deeply happy and content.

My former employer, an organic farmer, told me once that you have to really love farming to be a farmer because it is a hell of a lot of hard work. I have not done any jobs that I have loved as much as working the land. Never felt so challenged and yet so willing to do whatever it took to accomplish my goals for the day. Never has exhaustion felt so good. Sitting inside my friend's house tonight I reflected on how grateful I am for this three-day gig at my friend's house that is demanding that I work the land -- sure, it is not the same as farming, but I have been working with plants, soil and leaves that will be used on my friend's vegetable garden as compost.

It is interesting that we are always placed in the right place at the right time to experience things that remind us what makes us most alive. For me it is the land--an intimate, physical and daily relationship with the soil and plants and the wildlife that live around me. What about you, friends? What makes you most alive?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Work as worship

“Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are.”  -Julia Cameron
I spent the day today raking leaves for a friend who needed some yard work done. I am dog-tired tonight, but I am happy. I spent the day outside doing physical work under a clear blue sky and warmed by sunshine. I breathed fresh air. I even got to watch two flocks of migrating geese headed south pass overhead, which always makes me feel supremely blessed. By the end of the day my entire body ached--it has been a long time since I last did hard physical work--but I felt healthy and content for having done an honest day's work. The Baha'i writings say that work is worship, and I felt that distinctly today while I was out at my friend's home raking leaves, piling them onto a tarp and dragging them to the other side of the farm to the compost. Sometimes the simplest activities are exactly what we need. Work is a blessing. It helps to focus the attention, to set goals, and to commit to accomplishing something meaningful every day. Today I am feeling grateful for the work my friend has hired me to do. For something that demands that I get up early and head out before the earth has been completely warmed by the sun. For the physical satisfaction of know I accomplished something worthwhile with my day. And for the glorious sensation of being able to work outside, beneath the sun-lit sky. 

How about you, friends? What are you feeling grateful for in the place and moment that you are living in right now?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Education under fire

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
I took part in a teleconference today with people all over North America. A number of "speakers" presented on various aspects of the Education Under Fire campaign, and the denial of access to higher education that young Baha'is in Iran continue to be confronted with today. Education Under Fire is a campaign to raise global awareness about the plight of young Baha'i students who graduate from high school only to be denied access to higher education solely because of their religious beliefs, and to encourage individuals, organizations, institutions and governments to speak out against the Iranian government's consistent denial of access to education to Baha'is.

The denial to higher education has been going on so long now that the Baha'i community of Iran, recognizing the importance of finding a way to educate its young people, created the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). The BIHE provides Baha'i youth with a means of obtaining higher education, and as such is seen by the government of Iran as being an illegal institution. The Institute has had its classrooms and labs raided more than once, and its faculty and students are regularly arrested, imprisoned and tortured.

This semester, for example, the BIHE began its semester with two of its faculty in prison. The first day of class the students were given an orientation that included an overview of the laws concerning imprisonment, and guidance for how to behave if anyone should be imprisoned or tortured during the semester. Can you imagine living in a country where you are confronted with the very real possibility of being imprisoned and tortured for pursuing your education? I certainly can't, and do not believe anyone should have to risk their freedom and life to pursue their education.

A global campaign is under way to make sure that no student in Iran -- Baha'i or other faith -- is barred access to higher education because of their religious beliefs. A documentary film has been made in which former BIHE students are interviewed about their experiences before they left Iran. The documentary will be launched in January, showing on university campuses across the United States. The film will be followed by a discussion with a group of panelists, the hope being that the documentary will encourage audiences across the continent to speak out against the denial of this very basic and yet so very important human right to the young people of Iran.

The campaign also includes a letter written by two Nobel Laureate winners speaking out against the current policies of the Iranian government towards Baha'i students in Iran that the public is being encouraged to endorse and share with others who they think might be interested. The producers of the film are trying to get 25,000 people to endorse the letter by May 2012. If you would like to read and endorse the letter, you can do so here

The topic of the teleconference today was synergy: that two or more people working together generate a power that is much greater than the sum of each of their individual abilities. The point being made is, of course, that denial of access to higher education to the Baha'i youth in Iran has implications for access to higher education globally. This is not just an issue confronting the Baha'i community of Iran. This is an issue of access to education for people everywhere around the world. The more people talking about the plight of the Baha'i youth of Iran--the more people standing up and taking a stand--the more powerful the call for an end to denial of education to anyone based on their faith will be. People can only continue to treat a minority unjustly as long as the majority is content to stand by and allow it. Injustice cannot persist when the majority is demanding justice.

Listening to the conversation today made me reflect on my own education. It is not often that I have thought about higher education as a right, but nobody ever tried to take access to a university degree away from me. I also did not often think of access to higher education as a privilege, but hearing about students whose desire to learn is so great that they are willing to risk their lives to obtain their education makes me realize that it is indeed a privilege to have had such easy access to university when I pursued my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. All I had to do was focus on my studies. My life was never threatened.

I am working with some friends to make sure that when the documentary Education Under Fire is released this January, it is shown on the Sac State campus here in Sacramento, and I would like to encourage you to visit the Education Under Fire website and find out about showing the documentary in your community--at an academic institution or a community centre or private home. There is great power in lending our voices to support human right in Iran. There is tremendous strength in synergy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas lights and good company

Photo property of Dionne Randolph. May not be reproduced without permission. 

Last night after our Friday night devotional myself and ten friends hit the streets to check out the Christmas lights, bundling up in coats, scarves and hats, and picking up hot chocolates to keep our hands warm along the way. We walked around for about two hours, and although I generally feel that the weather here is pretty mild, last night I was glad I had worn my wool hat. The lights here remind me of something out of a movie. Each tree-lined street strung with white lights that arc over the street, and each individual tree wrapped in lights that climb up the trunk like a candy-cane. Most of the houses have lights on the eaves and around the windows and doors, but many also have reindeer, snowmen and Santa on the front lawn. One house had a Santa playing a real piano. It is magical and at the same time I know that if I were to describe the scene to some of the friends that I grew up with back in the Mediterranean, they would laugh and shake their heads, not knowing what to make of the massive outflow of energy and money that goes into decorating houses for Christmas here.

Photo property of Dionne Randolph. May not be reproduced without permission.
Still, it IS beautiful, isn't it? And wandering up and down the sidewalk with my friends last night I passed many, many others out doing the same thing, some singing carols, some talking and laughing as they walked. A few people had even rented limos to drive them up and down the streets very slowly so they could take in the sights from the warm comfort of the car! Having so many people out wandering the residential streets at night was evoked a kind of community spirit that I so rarely get to experience here. I really enjoyed being out there with friends and strangers alike--all having such a great time!

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
How about you, friends? Do people decorate their homes and streets for the holidays where you live? Have you taken the time to go out and enjoy the magic of the season at night with friends and/or family?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Social media and Christmas lights

Photo by Shayan. May not be reproduced without permission.
 It has been a bright, radiant and crisp Friday. I had a meeting downtown this morning and decided to walk, the crackly, crunchy leaves beneath my feet deeply satisfying, the bright, clear blue sky above shining through the now mostly bare limbs of the giant oaks along our street calming and uplifting. The sun warmed my skin and hair, and there was a lightness to my step. I was meeting a client who I am helping with his social media marketing campaign. I have been doing a lot of reading, and a good deal of playing around with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin over the last couple of weeks, and am really enjoying not only learning how to more effectively use individual social networking sites to the benefit of a business, but also how to link various sites together to maximize the benefit of already existing connections with clients/customers on all the sites that a business is listed on.

I am amused by how much I enjoy the process of helping others work on their social media marketing campaigns. I have not exactly ever been what I would call a *computer person,* but here I am helping my friends expand their businesses using tools that run on electronic devices. I have to laugh at the situation. The more I learn the more interested I become, and the more interested I become the more I realize how many resources there are out there to understand and become adept at working with. Social networking sites may suck up time if I have no purpose or reason for being there, but with a specific aim in mind, it can be quite satisfying and effective in helping a business grow.

It is Friday evening now, and I have one more meeting before my weekend begins. I cannot wait for the weekend. I am really exhausted and ready for a couple more down days. This evening some friends and I are having a devotional gathering. A devotional gathering is where a group of people get together to share prayers and readings from various spiritual/religious traditions and discuss them. It is a great way to end the week, putting everything back into perspective, and reminding me that I am indeed a spiritual being having a physical experience, and not vice-versa. After our devotional gathering we are going to head over to the fabulous forties, a neighbourbood that I have written about once in the last week that is know for its incredible Christmas decorations. My friends and I are planning on getting bundled up and wandering up and down the streets wide-eyed like children (I am hoping with a hot drink in hand!!)....

What about you, friends? What are you doing to wind down your week/rev up your weekend? I hope you have a terrific Friday night! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Taking the time

"I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire." 
- Martha Graham

I woke up this morning to the gentle, calming sound of rain falling outside. The sky was a dull grey that looked endless enough to be promising. I was supposed to be volunteering out on the farm today, but we were going to work out in the garden and the soil would have been too wet so Guy gave me the morning off to enjoy the wintry day. 

I received a lovely long letter yesterday from a friend in Ecuador. It has been a long time since I received such a long, informative and engaging letter, and so I had promised to respond this morning if my trip to the farm today was canceled due to weather. After breakfast I made myself a lovely hot cup of India Assam golden-tipped tea with milk and honey. I love this tea. It is malty and full-bodied, and the flavour is luxurious--blossoming warmth and sweetness. Tea made, I settled down at my desk to respond to my friend's letter. Such a great way to start the day. Reading her letter, and responding to it reminded me, yet again, how rarely I take the time to write letters anymore, and what an art form letter-writing really is. It is an art form for the writer and it is a great opportunity to pay attention--to listen--for the reader. Such a gift. I find that I also notice myself saying things in letters to friends that I did not even realize I was thinking or feeling, so it helps me to take a step back and notice how I am moving through my days. Reading and writing letters also reminds me of our shared humanity. That we all have unique stories that are important to share with each other because a glimmering of insight from one person is often wisdom that can help someone else. We are all experiencing joys and losses, challenges and sorrows. We are all trying to grow and develop our capacities as human beings. So why not share our experiences of the process? 

Sitting at my desk responding to my friend's letter also made me slow down. How often do we say: "I will write back soon" and then just never do it? You probably do not have this problem, but I most certainly do. And yet how much deeper and more richly textured our relationships become when we take the time to share our inner thoughts, dreams, fears, questions and experiences of life. I have sent and received many notes in the last 24 hours, but none of them have improved the quality of my day as much as this one letter. It gives me pause to reflect. I want to do this more. I want to make the time to write deeper, more engaging letters even if it means I forgo commenting on people's status updates on facebook. If you were to ask me which I would prefer-- one handwritten letter or five comments on my facebook page I would obviously choose the former. Obviously....but in reality it is quite evident from the number of brief notes I send and the fewness of letters that I email or snail-mail that I am choosing immediacy over quality every day. 

So I am going to start an experiment. I am going to write a letter a day for the next week and see what the result is. I will let you know how it turns out.  

My teacup is empty, and it is time to bundle myself up and head across the city to study the story of Baha'u'llah's (founder of the Baha'i faith) life with another good friend. Time consuming? Most definitely. But I can tell you that my two hour weekly study sessions with my friend are like the peak of my week. I look forward to Thursdays, and the time we have set aside to slow down and engage in uplifting discussions on spiritual topics. 

Take some time to slow down and connect with a friend or family member. Sit down with them for a chat over a hot cup of tea. Ask them to sit down and say some prayers for someone you know who is in need of them with you. Tell stories. Enjoy the quality of the interaction. Turn off your cell phone and practice just being present. 

Have a great Thursday, friends! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Photograph is property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It will be lost. The world will not have it.

    It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” 

-Martha Graham  

This morning I did a writing exercise with my dear friend Ahava Shira, who lives on Saltspring Island in British Columbia. Ahava is a creativity mentor, writer, performer and loving inquirer whose work brings together creative expression, entrepreneurial business skills (which she calls Heartrepreneurs) and personal development to help women find success and fulfillment in work that is joy-filled and life-giving, and in their relationships with friends and family. She leads courses, workshops and retreats, and conducts one-on-one sessions. I highly recommend you visit her website and learn more. She also hosts a radio show on which she reads poetry, plays music and talks about the practice of Loving Inquiry called Love in the Afternoon on Mondays at 1pm PST (it is best enjoyed with a hot cup of tea ;-)). 

Ahava and I have been writing together once a week for about a year now. We do so via Skype, which is such a blessing, because it means she can be right in front of me as we write, and I can see her facial expressions as she shares what she has written and vice-versa. The last few weeks she was waiting for a new computer to arrive, so we could not write, but today she was all set up again and rearing to go, so at 10am we were both seated in our respective creative spaces ready to write. 

I rarely share my more creative/journal writing on my blog, but Ahava was convinced that what I wrote and shared with her this morning needed to be on my blog, so I thought I would give it a try and see what you think since I did say that I was going to be incorporating more of my creative writing into my blog posts. So here you have my creative journal writing piece from this morning. It does not (yet) have a title. I think it may end up being "Counter-migration," but I am not quite sure yet. Reading it again now I am quite certain that is is a sliver of a larger piece in the making. Perhaps I will write the rest of it in the new year, looking back. 


Morning sunlight on my sheer cream curtains makes me wonder into another day and what it holds. I think my life is shifting, but I have thought that too many times to be sure. The land of snow is pulling my heart north. Soon my body will be island-bound, returning to its natural habitat, bound by water and community. Its wildness reflecting and amplifying my own.

They say when you leave land you love it misses you as much as you it. That there is always a gap there waiting for you to return—slip back into, belong. The way you can sometimes slip back into a relationship with a dear friend with complete ease even after years apart.

If I were a landscape, I would be an island – a small one at that. I don’t really know why that is, in case you are wondering. It just is.

A week ago I watched hundreds of birds migrate overhead, their dark bodies fluid v-shaped streams, one after the other, dark waves against the blue vault above. It reminded me of a fall evening after picking up a load of turnips for market at the end of a long day. Limbs tired, contentment warm in my chest. We heard them before we saw them, pulled over at the side of the road on our way back to the farm, leaned up against the van, our necks craned up, eyes squinting against the last radiance of light stretched out long across the coastline and the inky darkness of the Atlantic. Above, wave after wave of geese determinedly pressed forward on their arduous journey south. Sunlight the colour of honey gave the left over stubble of the hay fields a grainy, dreamlike appearance. A cold wind blew steady. The sensation inside my body was one of contented yearning—for what I am not sure. The seasonal migration perhaps? The biological urge to give in to the pull of the land and sky? There was, back then, a daily conversation between my body and the land. The moon pulled my tides with her full pale face. At the most basic, biological level I was in synch with the universe.

But this is not about the past or discontent. This is my life. I am finding my way home. I am getting on a plane headed north in two weeks--my migration counter-intuitive. Am I fighting the inevitable, or giving in to some inner truth? It is hard to know. I pray daily. Morning, evening, and often in-between. Will something come of this trip north? Will I remain, the return portion of my ticket unused? Will the land, I wonder, still have me? Will it have held my spot open for me to reinhabit?   

Do you keep a journal to record your thoughts? If you do, how long have you been journalling, and what do you enjoy most about having a journal? I invite you to and write an entry entitled "Migration." If you feel like it, post a sentence or two from your entry in the comments section below.

Have a beautiful Wednesday night, and an inspiring day tomorrow, friends!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good book on a cold evening

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

It is a chilly day here today. I had to--gasp--wear a sweater inside my coat when I went outside! I have been walking around all day shivering, and I know it is just because the insulation in our house is so lacking. That is the difference between California and Canada in my opinion when it comes to feeling the cold. It is bloody freezing in Canada, but Canadians know how to dress for it. They also know how to insulate and heat their homes. Here I smile when I see people wandering around in tank tops with light jean or leather jackets thrown over the top shivering and complaining that it is just too cold. Californians are reluctant to dress for any season other than summer I find, and it amuses me to no end. The photo above is of me back on Prince Edward Island in Canada. It seemed perfect for this post about the cold!!!

Still.....I am feeling the cold INSIDE the house today despite my many layers and endless cups of hot tea, and cannot wait to snuggle underneath the warm covers with my book. I am reading The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. I have read about ten books in the last couple of weeks, and this one is by far the most intricately woven tale. The imagery is not poetic, but it is descriptive enough that I can clearly imagine the characters and scenes, and the plot is engaging, involving two continents so far and the stories of multiple generations--I found myself disappointed when my eyes started fluttering closed last night before I had reached half way through the novel. That is another thing I like about it -- it is thick --549 pages. Which means I will have reading material for at least a couple of days! ;-)

Have you read any good historical or other works of fiction that you were particularly impressed by recently? I am always on the lookout for something new. If you have, please share your recommendations in the comments section below.

If you are in the northern hemisphere, I hope you are curled up somewhere warm, cozy, and in possession of a well-written, engrossing book (and if you are sweating your way through a long hot humid afternoon in the southern hemisphere, I hope a fan is on, and that you are swaying in a hammock in the shade!) There is something about winter and books, isn't there? Have a great night, friends! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just can't go without

"Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about." - Unknown
What can you not go a day without thinking about? Have you ever asked yourself this question? I haven't. But I thought it was the perfect question to share with you on gratitude Monday! Share three things you cannot go a day without thinking about in the comments section below. Here's my (slightly longer) list to get you started: 
 1. Prayer. I say prayers when I wake up in the morning to set the tone of my day, and before I sleep to help let go of everything that has been going on during the day. As a Baha'i, I also say one of the Baha'i obligatory prayers every day. I say healing prayers for friends who are unwell, for friends and family that are going through tough times and for protection before traveling. Prayer is my conversation with God, and that relationship is, from my perspective, my foundation for everything else I do with my life. 
2. My parents. I think about my parents every day. Sometimes because I am worried about them. Sometimes because they are driving me crazy. Sometimes because they are traveling or sick or preparing for a presentation or performance. Sometimes I just miss them. The regularity with which I think about them highlights how important it is to work on maintaining a healthy, happy relationship with them. 
3. My friends/community. There is not a single day that goes by that I do not think about my friends. They are pure sunshine in my life, and I cannot imagine my life without them. Maintaining my relationships with them is superbly important to me, so I spend a lot of time and energy hanging out with them, drinking tea with them, taking walks, having picnics, writing them emails, calling them, sending hand-written letters and packages, and even hopping on a jet and turning up unannounced every now and then just to keep them on their toes!
4. Writing/reading. I have a tendency to inhale books that borders on being obsessive. I often read between three and five books a week, cover to cover, and often stay up half the night because I am so engrossed in a book that I cannot put it down. I read at the breakfast table, during tea breaks, at coffee shops, on public transportation, in the bath, in the garden, while waiting to see the doctor/dentist, and in bed. I love good historical fiction and poetry best. I also love to write, and there is never a morning that I wake up without wondering what I will write that day (even when I do not actually write anything--though that is rare these days). I write in my journal. I write poetry. I write non-fiction, and I am slowly working on a fiction novel right now -- my first. I love how reading and writing enable me to enter a completely different world to the physical one I am currently living in, and how when I am in that world everything else ceases to exist--and I truly enjoy creating this experience for my own readers. I also love how poems and other forms of literature manage to touch the raw heart of truth in ways that are often not expressed when people speak to each other.
5. Home. I think about the places that are most deeply rooted in my heart every single day. Mainly Prince Edward Island and Cyprus. I love the land, the smells, the colour of the ocean/sea, the music, and the idiosyncrasies of the people and culture. I love these two places with a depth that I normally associate only with the people I am closest to. When my plane lands on either of these islands and I step out of the plane and inhale the air I literally feel my entire being relax. I experience more deeply and am somehow willing to be vulnerable in on these islands that I love so. I also think about my desire to build myself a home in a place that I love with my own hands every day. A place that will be my anchor and to which I can return from traveling around the world to find everything where I left it. I have moved so much that I have never really had the luxury of such a place, and I dream of the day when I might be able to establish such a place that I can call my own. 
6. Farming. I think about farming every day. I am at my absolute best when I am in rubber boots out in the middle of a field harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables. This ties in with the prayers. I pray about having my own land some day that I can farm. 
7. Love. It's true. Along with thoughts of home and building a farm/house come thoughts of partnership--sometime to build and share this life with. Someone with whom to create a family. I wonder who this person will be, where we will meet, and when! 
8. Service. I don't know how this ended up at the bottom of my list. It should have been up there with prayer and God and my parents! I think about serving my community a lot. I try to do something every day that is of service to those around me. Some days these things are bigger than other days, but most days I manage something. Being of service every day is something that will always be a goal in my life both because I like to know that I am contributing to the betterment of society, but also because I know that serving others helps me to grow and become a better version of myself. Increasing my capacity, you know?
I think I'll stop there. Give you a chance to share your three (or more, if you want!) things that you cannot go a day without thinking about!
Happy gratitude Monday, friends!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday evening Eckhart

I read a sliver of a poem by Lorri Neilsen Glenn a couple of days ago that keeps rippling through me. A friend who must have a copy of her collection of poetry Lost Gospels shared it with me...just a few lines, but I keep hearing them again and again pulsing through my head. So I googled Lorri and was surprised to find out that she lives in Halifax--a city I visited often while living in Atlantic Canada, and yet I have never read any of her poetry. I tried entering her information into the library database here in California, hoping I could order a few of her collections through inter-library loan, but there was no listing for any of her work. So far the only poem I have been able to find in its entirety on line is the one I share below, which I absolutely love. I want to use this blog as a place not only to share my own writing and experiences, but also a place to share writing that inspires and moves me in the hope that you will also discover writers that you might otherwise not have, or be called back to re-read a book, passage or poem that you read long ago but is no longer fresh in your mind. For tonight, let me introduce you to Lorri Neilsen Glenn. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.   

You think of Meister Eckhart, by Lorri Neilsen Glenn

as the wind rises in the eucalyptus, follows tunnels of light
the queltehue have shaped in the air, tunnels that disappear inside

their own creation. Breath is to story as running is to horses, all wild eyes
and urgency, dust and dream flank, rush of imagination. And you wonder:

how does she find her way with those invisible hands? But when she whispers
at night as you try to steer stars, you wake with only the taste of the answer

in your mouth. And you think of Jesus, of the Buddha, of St. Teresa,
of the poet who drank wine from blue goblets, wrote

green lines on driftwood, slept with women he kept mistaking for the sea.
Can you learn to be as empty as a clay pot, to be that simple.

that lavish?
-and you walk on seashells among angels and devils,

from lanzas and pirates whose treasures won’t last, and you tap
your small crystal heart with the lightstick of the world, and listen:

you know music cannot be as sharply drawn as the eyes of a captive hawk, nor
pinned down to staves with clefs and a rest. It is bird shriek at dawn, chug-

churning engines hot with promise, murmuring cows that trail swollen udders,
generous whispers of the fig tree summer-heavy with fruit you break open

in your palm and lay on your tongue. It is what you have already known
and tasted, mystery that grows in tears and bone, in death and rock and ocean,

the space on the stairs between this step and the next, in the red muscle
of mercy. It longs and it is longing and it wants you as virgin, wants you

as wife, lover, child, over cloud, under water, wants your throb
and blood-thirst, buried tears, and more. It shows you that soft is stronger

than hard, that you – rapt listener, ripening soul – always knew how to dance
this river, this winter, to compose out of the distant cry of stars.

(From Lost Gospels, Brick Books, 2010).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Single quote Saturday

Some local children helping to lay water pipe to bring clean drinking water to their village in the Dominican Republic.
"Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Few words, much music

Today was my father's final recital. He has been doing his Master's degree in music composition after many many years of teaching, performing and composing. He has been doing his degree in the evenings while continuing to teach elementary school music all day, and composing in every minute in-between, which means he has been rather over-extended for the last couple of years. But tonight seven of his original compositions were performed in a small concert that was the culmination of two years' worth of work. It was a gorgeous concert, and made me feel like after two years of barely speaking with my father (he is not a big talker), tonight I was flooded with two years worth of everything he might have said had he spoken more, and what he had to say was incredibly beautiful, friends. I will try to post some of the video recording made of the performance once he receives it. 

After the concert one of his professors, a handful of the musicians that performed his compositions, and a few friends came back to the house for steaming hot bowls of soup, salad, thick slices of hot bread and gingerbread and vanilla ice-cream with strong, piping hot coffee for dessert. I love having musicians in the house. My grandfather was a professional musician, my father's older brother is a professional musician, and when I was growing up we just always seemed to have musicians in our house rehearsing with my dad. Because musicians have been such a big part of my life, I find their  presence comforting. They sit around talking about tempo and half notes, discussing the difference in sound between say Baroque violin and regular violin, or making music jokes that involve puns that I never really get. When my dad talks to myself or my mother he is rather quiet, but when he is in the company of musicians he suddenly has a whole repertoire of music-related jokes that I have never heard before and is sparring music trivia with his companions. There is something about listening to a whole group of musicians excitedly discussing their passion even when I do not actually get a good portion of what is going on that makes me happy. Tonight we had a lot of music lingo flying around our warm little living room, and I enjoyed just sitting back and listening. I think what makes it so enjoyable to listen to is that musicians really love what they do. It is not a profession that people go into for the money, so those who make a life out of it generally really enjoy making music, and this is evident when they get talking.

At the end of the evening, after our guests had finally drifted out one by one, I washed dishes and helped my dad clean up, feeling content and happy that all of his hard work created so much beautiful music. It is such a gift having a musician for a father--always having live music in the house, and getting to hear and understand how a piece is slowly stitched together, each instrument being perfectly integrated to complement all the others until a unified sound emerges that is so completely unlike what any single one of the instruments could possibly have produced alone.

I am feeling grateful for my father's gift of music, and for all the hard work and dedication that generates the music that has always filled my life. It has been a truly gorgeous day. The perfect start to the weekend! Have a lovely, relaxing day tomorrow friends! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gratitude on a Thursday

"You must appreciate...and engage your time in mentioning and thanking the True One. You must live in the utmost happiness. If any trouble or vicissitude comes into your lives, if your heart is depressed on account of health, livelihood or vocation, let not these things affect you. They should not cause unhappiness, for Baha'u'llah has brought you divine happiness. He has prepared heavenly food for you; He has destined eternal bounty for you; He has bestowed everlasting glory upon you. Therefore, these glad tidings should cause you to soar in the atmosphere of joy forever and ever. Render continual thanks unto God so that the confirmations of God may encircle you all." ~'Abdu'l-Baha ~

I am feeling grateful for a good number of things today. So much so that even though it is not gratitude Monday, I just have to share!

When I woke up this morning my dear friend and personal trainer extraordinaire Pascale had just posted this awesome blog post about gratitude AND tea. Two of my all time favourite things in one blog post. What could be better? Starting my day reading her blog just got me started on the right foot, and I just *knew* it was going to be a good day.

I spent my morning volunteering on Soil Born Farm, which today meant raking enormous quantities of leaves into piles, raking the piles onto tarps, pulling the tarps across the farm to our leaf mountain, and piling them all up in a central location to be turned into mulch. The sky was blue. The sun was shining. The leaves were crunchy beneath our feet, and there were birds out in the trees and flitting here and there from treetop to treetop. After so long of no physical activity, it felt really, really good to do some good physical work outside in the winter sunshine. After we were done raking we pulled the remaining beets, kohlrabi, turnips and chard out of one of the beds in the youth garden. It felt SO good to get my hands back into the soil. There is something about harvesting food that is pure magic. I feel it in my body and my heart. Guy and I ate lunch outside in the sunshine. It is slightly chilly now, but once the sunshine started warming us up I realized what a blessing it is to still be able to eat a home-cooked vegetarian meal outside on an organic farm in the middle of winter.

This afternoon my father had the first of his music compositions performed at a concert at Sac State. It was a five-part piece for a woodwind quintet, and it was lovely. He has worked so hard this year teaching all day and going to school at night, and then spending every free moment when we was not at school or work composing music that I rarely see him. But tomorrow afternoon he has his final concert, and then he is done! He will have his Master's degree in music composition! I am really proud of him. He has composed some tremendously beautiful pieces of music this year, and I am looking forward to hearing them be performed tomorrow.

Have you looked up recently? Why don't you take a moment now and go outside and check out the moon. She is b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l right now friends. Crisp, wide-faced, heading towards being full, but not quite. She is begging to be admired, so get thyself outside and admire!

I am also feeling grateful for the quote at the top of this email, and for the message it contains. I have been reading it every morning lately. Today I began my day by reading it, and thought I could do with reading it again before I head to bed tonight because I received another "thank you for applying for this position" letter today, and have been trying to re-orient my perspective and see it as another door closing so that I get one step closer to the one that is going to open if I keep looking and applying and staying positive. Yes. I am definitely grateful for the reminder that I should not allow external circumstances over which I have no control get me down.

On the way home from dinner out with my parents tonight we drove through a neighbourhood called the fabulous 40s. It is one of the wealthiest areas of the city, and it is famous for its gorgeous Christmas light decorations, so during the month of December people drive up and down through the streets to enjoy the magical light displays. Most of the trees on the streets are wrapped in lights. Strands of coloured and white lights arc over the road, creating a tunnel of fairy lights to drive through. Christmas trees glow inside people's living rooms, and every window and eave is draped with lights. My favourites are the strands of white icicle lights hanging from the eaves of some homes. They give off a soft, pretty glow, but are not too over the top. Driving up and down the streets of the fabulous 40s at this time of year is like entering another world. One that makes me feel ever so slightly like I have driven into a Disney movie, and any moment a prince is going to suddenly appear, take my hand, and lead me off down the street of lights as fireworks go off in the clear sky above. It is surreal, but it is also fun, and tonight I found myself feeling grateful for the light displays that make this season so lighthearted and dreamlike.

How about you, friends? What are you feeling grateful for on this clear, crisp winter's night?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


"Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you -- and your unhappy mood will dissolve into a blessed, contented submission to God." (Attributed to Abdu'l-Baha) 
The above quote was shared with me by a friend who who in turn was given it by another friend. I am trying to find out where it actually comes from, and have thus far been unsuccessful, but I promise to update this posting once I do so that you will know. 
Irrespective of the source, I love the sentiment it is expressing, and my coming across this quote, in combination with a number of things that have happened in the last 24 hours, has made me reflect on something that I just had to share with you! 
I know I said I would not be talking much about the past anymore, but indulge me here for a minute if you will! While I was studying on Prince Edward Island in Canada I would occasionally reach the end of my tether. Too much stress. Not enough sleep. Or "I have no idea where my life is headed and WHY did I move to this godforsaken place where the temperature drops to 35 degrees below zero in the winter again????" Yeah. You get the picture. Anyway...when I would reach this place, my dear friend Alanna would say you me: "You know what you need? You need to go visit Linda. She will fix you." The first time she said this I wasn't so sure. I mean Linda lived in Shediac, New Brunswick -- I tiny little town on the eastern coast of Canada that was so small that it made PEI look urban, and it wasn't like it was any warmer over there than it was on the island. But Alanna is one of the most convincing people I know. She could convince anyone to do just about anything. So I packed my bag and before I knew it Alanna was driving me (this was before I owned my own car) to the Confederation Bridge where I caught I shuttle bus to the New Brunswick side of the frozen landscape, where Linda loaded me into her little car and drove me back to her warm home for the weekend. During the weekend Linda and I cooked healthy meals that we enjoyed with her husband Jacques, made and drank lots of tea, shared many morning and evening prayers, and sat and talked for hours on end. She was wild and crazy, loved to laugh, had incredible stories from living in the South Pacific and Africa, and yet at the same time was deeply wise. She also was (and still is) an excellent listener. 
At the end of the weekend Linda bundled me, happy as a clam, back into her car in my long underwear, down coat, wool hat, gloves, scarf, two pairs of socks and boots, and drove me back to the bridge, where I took the shuttle back across to the island where Alanna met me, saying (triumphantly) "see? I told you Linda would fix you." And she was right. Linda had fixed me. I never knew quite what Linda did, but over the next six years Alanna shipped me off to be fixed at Linda's home many, many times, and after I graduated and bought myself a car, I would drive myself to Linda and Jacques' place for the weekend. I'd like to think that I also went to visit because over time Linda and Jacques had become very dear to me, but I think that even when I was there on a social call, Linda was working her magic -- re-fueling my soul well, making sure I was laughing at life and myself, taking the time to pray, and staying true to my heart. 
Last night I was feeling very blue indeed. It was just one of those nights, and I found myself lying in bed wide awake long after I would have liked to be asleep wishing that there were somewhere I could go....a place I could get away to for a few days to clear my head, gain a different perspective, laugh a little, and take a break from the never-ending job search. Lying there in the darkness I realized that what I really wanted was to visit Linda. "To be fixed," as Alanna would say. I do not know anyone here that I have that kind of relationship with. When I am feeling unsteady I am just feeling unsteady, and I just have to deal with it myself. I am on my own. 
Knowing that I could not take off for the weekend to see Linda because she is on the opposite side of the continent, I decided that perhaps I could write to her. So I pulled my computer onto my bed and wrote her a nice long letter. I still haven't heard back from her, but in the meantime I came across the above-mentioned quote, and I realized that there is a reason that Linda is so far away right now and it isn't just because I got in a car and drove to the opposite side of the continent. I recently read Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, in which he speaks about the fact that no matter what our circumstances, we always have a choice how we respond to any given situation we find ourselves in. In circumstances that are unpleasant or challenging, we can choose to remain fully present and use the circumstances as an opportunity to learn something new and grow beyond our former limitations, or we can ignore the chance we are being given to ask ourselves the question "what can I learn from this?" and instead vegetate passively. It is wonderful to have a supportive community of friends that I know I can turn to when and if I need advice or support or someone to go for a walk with or sit down for a long chat and a good laugh--a community where every time I am struggling with something someone is always there to help me get through. But it is also important to know both that I can fix myself, and how to go about doing so. 
This morning I did Ruhi book 2 with a good friend of mine. We studied the life of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith. We also said some prayers together, and prayed for a friend who has cancer. Focusing on our learning process and on sending out healing energy to my friend was the best "fix" I could ask for. After Ruhi I met another friend who needs some help with the social media marketing campaign for his business, and I spent my afternoon working on ways to help him achieve his goal. This evening I helped my mother prepare the house and then host a group of women who come here twice a month for a women's devotional gathering. Tonight the woman who was leading had chosen as the topic "tests and difficulties." The readings that she had chosen were perfect, and the discussion that followed was lively and full of laughter, tears and wonderful rich stories. By the time the women left I felt completely "fixed" and I realized that I had turned my state of mind completely around simply by being present and focusing on serving those around me. 
It is a gift indeed to have people in my life who support me when I need a little support, but I am thinking that all of my relationships with the incredible people that I am blessed to have in my life might just be even more fulfilling once I master "fixing" myself, so that my time with my friends can be spent more fully savouring the joy of each other's company.
I came across a blog entry today that spoke to this very topic. The title is rather crude, but the content is spot on. It was called "When shit happens, turn it into fertilizer." You can read it (and I highly recommend you do) here
It is interesting to me that when I am paying attention and being conscious (and willing) to ask the question "what can I learn from this situation?" there is always something that I could be learning that would improve my life and the lives of everyone around me. What about you friends? When you are in a situation that is challenging or painful what do you do to turn yourself around? Do you have a particular question that you ask yourself? A quote that reminds you where you are headed? A meditation or yoga practice that re-centres you? If you do, I would love to hear your approach to "fixing" yourself in the comments section below. 
Have a great Thursday, friends!