Lotus #6 – Slow Down

What are you willing to surrender today… give back to the earth? So. you can rise again…. new, fresh, and ready to face this glorious world and all it brings…. with eyes of acceptance, wonder, and joy.” – Britt B Steele

I don’t talk about my work life here or on Instagram very often but it is the crux of this lotus. My career in education proceeded rather swiftly. Teacher. Department Chair by age 29. Assistant Principal by age 34. Principal by age 40. I completed my Master’s degree and my law degree while working full time. The one consistency through out this time was that I continually sought to prove myself. To do more and be more for the people I worked with and the teachers and students I served. Once my husband and our children entered my world when I was age 35, 38, and 41 the fast-paced stress-filled lifestyle was fully internalized.

It began to take it’s toll on me in countless ways. The internalized negative self-talk grew louder. The internal stress created by me and the external stress created by the work, materialized physically in my weight, skin, eyes. My resilience diminished. My recovery from stressful situations was slower.

There was a subtle voice that grew louder with each day, until one day I heard it loud and clear, and I realized that I brought it all on myself. It was my own thoughts, fears, assumptions, and pressures that created this environment in which I lived. And, if I created it, I also had the power to change it. This wasn’t about how to balance work and home as a wife and mother and educator. This was about setting a pace I wanted; a pace in which I would be able to thrive, not just make it through each day. With clarity I understood that  am able to control my time, how I spend it, and how I feel about it. I put the brakes on, and took the time to really look at my underlying thoughts, goals, and actions.

Slow Down, June 2021

The first step was to Stop. I took a day by myself to stop. To be comfortable without an agenda. No expectations. No requirements. No obligations. No mobile phone. No computer. Paper and pencil only.  This could have been anywhere – a retreat, a hotel, a cabin, my bedroom, the beach. The only requirement was silence and solitude. For me, it was a vacation day in Washington, D.C.  I took walks in the city. I swam in the hotel pool. I took a long herbal bath. I reflected and I wrote.

The second step was to Look. I took a long look at my days through the lens of two questions: (1) What time is available in my day? (2) What are the important things to me – the things that fuel me? On a typical day, my work day is from 6:30am – 4:30pm.  My list of important things turned out to be much smaller than I expected; everything fit into one of four categories:

  • Morning rituals
  • Family time
  • Movement
  • Evening rituals

I realized I had plenty of time in the morning for my morning rituals, as long as I was willing (and able 🙂 ) to wake up earlier. On the other end of the day. if dinner was at 6:30pm that gave me one hour when I was first home and 2 hours before bed time that was available.

The third step was to create an Outline. I began by writing a description of my ideal day. Keeping in the forefront all of the things I listed above that are important to me and fuel me,  I outlined the day – from the minute my eyes opened until they closed again at the end of the day. 

I wake up at 4am and my morning ritual begins with stretching and checking in to see how I feel before I even emerge from bed and then a walk with Winston, our bullmastiff. Then, it’s  a warming morning beverage, morning yoga, meditation, shower, getting ready for work, laundry, breakfast, and out the door.

When I arrive home it’s family time until 5:30pm, then dinner prep, dinner at 6:30pm, yoga at 7:30pm, and then 8:30pm prep for bed – reading, washing up,  no tech, etc.

The final step was to create a Way to implement this plan. I could not do this alone. I realized that I would need others and tools to be successful. Here are three easy changes we made:

Each night of our weekly menu is based upon specific meals:

  • Leftover Night
  • Bowl Night
  • Burger Night
  • One Pot Night
  • Pizza/Calzone Night
  • People’s Choice Night
  • And, the one that was added – Girl’s Chef Night. The girls take over dinner prep one night each week. It helps me slow down but more importantly it gives them creative time together. Breakfast is a common theme but sometimes they are more experimental.

The girl’s also took responsibility for several jobs each day. For example, the oldest takes care of trash, wiping down the dinner table, and wiping down the refrigerator doors on Monday night. The youngest straightens the sunroom, feeds the dog, and gets the mail on Thursdays. They learn responsibility for caring for our surroundings, they learn what it means to be a part of a (family) team, and I get to set my pace.

In the beginning I also set an alarm on my phone to help me remember my evening yoga time. I tend to get caught up in the energy of the night and found myself missing my yoga time simply because I forgot about it and when I realized it, it was bedtime. An alarm helped me create a pattern and commitment.  My husband protects the time by making sure I am not interrupted so I can focus ❤️.

Slowing down. My body, mind, heart, and spirit are now nourished through this changed pace. I am prepared for anything life’s twists and turns bring, and my recovery to stress is swifter and gentler.

My process – Stop, Look, Outline, Way – worked for me. Each of us must find our own way and our own pace. The magic for me came in realizing that I had the power to choose.

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Lotus #5 – Space

She needs wide open spaces Room to make her big mistakes -Wide Open Spaces, The Dixie Chicks

Baby needs someone to believe in And a whole lot of space to breathe in -Hold on Loosely, 38 Special

Space, May 2021

Space is one of those words that has such a wide variety of meanings.  Measurement. Location. Home of the moon, stars, and other universes. Squares on a Scrabble board. Then there is always the saying, “Man, I need my space.” The definition and understanding of space is ever evolving.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, space is from Latin spatium – “expanse of ground, area, space occupied by something, expanse in which the universe is situated, intervening space, gap, interval, space available for a purpose, room.” It is also from the Old French spaze, variant of aspace, Old French, Middle French espace, espasse (French espace ) “period of time, duration, deferment, delay, respite.” What I love about these origins is that they speak to space available for a purpose and respite. That is exactly why this lotus is so important: nurturing purpose and respite.

Each lotus so far has focused on daily rituals, actions, and connections. Earth/Nature, Place/Land, Movement, Healthy-Happy all describe the tools that are important to supporting me each day. Tools I tap into daily. This lotus, Space, is about looking at what connects these tools. It is about looking at how location and my lived experiences in the present interact and connect to the abstract and intuitive knowing and grounding that comes from each lotus. For me, this is space.

Space is about renewal. It is about creating opportunity. Opportunity to  nurture moments and to give myself respite. This type of space is both geographic and personal. 

Geographic space. Geographic space is relational, based on location and then qualities, processes, and proportions. Sometimes I just need distance from people, from the city, from the every day. Room for myself. Quiet that let’s me hear my own thoughts without extraneous chatter. It’s about finding those locations in the world that fuel relaxation and reconnection. Its meaning comes from relating to other concepts, my 12 lotus. Space manifests in locations where I can freely implement the tools found in the other lotus. Sometimes it means going away from my home. 4am walks with our dog to tap into Earth/Nature. Swimming to tap into Movement. Trail walks to tap into Place/Land. Sometimes it means finding the space within and around my home, like my special space in our back garden – a lounge chair surrounded by hydrangeas with a small rock cairn to remind me to always follow my way. 

Personal space. Personal space is a combination of physical and mental space. It is a space that nourishes, sustains, protects, and is a refugee from all of the things that pull me away, distract me, and demand my time and attention. It is a sacred space. I work long days. I leave the house at 6:30 am and sometimes don’t return until 5pm. The physical taking of the first step through the threshold of the doorway can determine how my mental state unfolds once I am inside. When I walk in the front door to our home it is important to me that our home greet me and welcome me. As I move through the rooms, I want to feel an ambiance that helps me relax, rejuvenate, and renew. The way daily life in our home is performed is directly linked to how I perceive our home. Intentionally interacting with our home as sacred space provides room for creativity, room to practice the tools embodied in each lotus, and clears the clutter of what I have carried from my work day. The items we have chosen to display and use throughout our home are nourishing and supportive. Every decision we make in our home builds this personal space, just like each of the tools in other lotus support how I approach each day. 

When considering what to bring in to my personal space I ask myself these four questions: Is it beautiful? Is it useful? Is it sustainable? Does it support health and wellness? This is because all of the items in a room bring their own energy to the room and combined they create a unique energy for the room. Here are some examples:

Entrance:

  • Herbs and plants on the outside doorstep
  • Iron horseshoe above the front door with the open end facing upward
  • Lavender bundle by the door

Dining Room:

  • Long wooden dining table 
  • Earthenware dishes made by a local potter
  • Artwork by local artists
  • Cookbook collection

Living Room:

  • Seasonal nature table
  • Fireplace and Hearth – hearth oil to bless the hearth and iron tools
  • Art books and music albums
  • Succulents and herb plants
  • Artwork by local artists
  • Natural fiber blankets and beeswax candles
  • Wool area rugs

Kitchen:

  • Cast iron and copper pots and pans
  • Glass containers for storage
  • Wooden and copper utensils and stone mortar and pestle
  • Homemade hand soap from plant and mineral based ingredients, fragrance free, biodegradable
  • Cleaning supplies from plant and mineral based ingredients, fragrance free, biodegradable
  • Beeswax candle in northeast corner
  • Flower in bud vase
  • Fresh and organic ingredients
  • Spices and herbs
  • Kombucha brewing
  • Vinegar brewing in vinegar crock
  • Mung Beans sprouting
  • Herbs in a window box outside the kitchen window
  • Family cookbook on wooden stand

Bedroom:

  • Natural fiber bed linens and duvet
  • Sustainable furniture with beautiful and efficient design
  • Fresh flowers from our garden
  • Photos of and objects connected to ancestors
  • Agate, Carnelian, Jade, and Quartz crystals
  • Homemade linen spray
  • Artwork by local artists
  • Salt lamp
  • Technology free space
  • 60 books that impacted my life and books to be read

There is no “right” way to work with space. It is reflective, experiential, and personal. Understanding space has allowed me to relax into my daily rhythm knowing that purpose and respite are built into the day.

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Lotus #4 – Healthy Happy

Healthy. Happy. These are the words through which I reflect decisions. Will it support healthiness? Will it support happiness?

For our family our Healthy Happy approach is based on whole foods and sustainable, ethical living. We endeavor to eat non-processed, whole-food, plant-based foods. We use products on our bodies that are made from herbs and oils, without synthetics, and without chemicals we can’t pronounce. Many of our products could just as easily be eaten as put on our hair or skin. We try to source our clothes from companies that use renewable and recyclable raw materials, fair trade practices, transparent supply chains, socially responsible programs. Our books come from a variety of locations including used book stores, local booksellers, and directly from the authors. Healthy Happy is a lens that works for us.

Every decision and action we make every day impacts our ability to live a simple, healthy, happy, life. Everything from our response to stress, to our morning beverage, to whether we choose to drink our water plain or with lemon in it. All of these little decisions impact our bodies and our minds. We strive to be intentional about our decisions and actions so that we are able to live a long, active, and fulfilling life while being responsible to our Earth and all of its inhabitants.

Saturday Morning Potatoes, 2021

Culinary herbalism is the backbone of our wellness approach. Feeding the body in such as way as to maximize its ability to resist and recover. Often the family is unaware that the purpose of the herbs goes beyond making the food taste great. 

Take Saturday morning breakfast potatoes, for example. Homemade season salt is generously sprinkled on top.  Our season salt contains:

  • garlic powder (an immunostimulant, expectorant, antimicrobial that provides excellent support during the first stages of a cold or the flu)
  • black pepper (wards off and supports management of colds and the flu; powerful circulation enhancer; diaphoretic)
  • onion powder (supports management of colds, coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and fever)
  • cayenne (an analgesic, antiseptic, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic)
  • celery salt (a warming blend of celery seeds and sea salt)
  • paprika (stimulates circulation and supports digestion and absorption)

An extra sprinkle of thyme on them gives them an extra boost. Thyme is a go-to herb for breathing difficulties, supports resolution of colds, the flu, and other respiratory infections, and opens the sinuses, helping to clear congestion. The potatoes taste great and help our bodies stay strong at the same time. No one is the wiser except me. (For more information on herbal properties visit The Herbarium at https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/).

I mentioned garlic above. Let’s talk about garlic for a bit. It is so powerful for maintaining wellness. It is foundational to so many recipes in our family: Fire Tonic, Garlic Honey, Garlic Ghee, Garlic Infused Oil, Garlic Vinegar, Stir Fry, Soups. Herbal traditions tell us that garlic is aromatic, pungent, spicy, heating, moistening (when fresh), and oily (when fresh). I feel the energetics of garlic as soon as I bite into it.  There are studies that suggest that anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties in garlic may help to prevent or diminish the onset of colds and flu. (See: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11697022/ to read the research.) Sometimes we just figure out what works for us based on our constitution and our intuition.

My grandmother had been a widow for 30 years when, at the age of 71, she eloped with Manny, 79 years old, born in Palermo, Italy in 1896. Manny lived to be 84 years old. I met him twice – once in 1977 and then again in 1980 when my grandmother passed away. I was fascinated by him. He was from Italy and was born in the 19th century. That alone was fascinating for me! Manny was the only person I knew born in the 1800’s. On top of that he said he was a count and had a castle back in the home country. He was fascinating to 11-year old me. I would watch him and strive to understand how he approached his days. Every morning he consumed one garlic clove and one raw egg. He insisted it was why he was so healthy. All I knew was that the first time I saw him slurp down that egg and chew that garlic, my response was “Gross!” 

I realized many years later that Manny was onto something. I am sure it was part of his ancestral knowledge and I regret never speaking with him more about it. I am certain he had so much more to share with me. What I learned for myself is that at the first sign of a stuffy nose or sore throat, I spread a teaspoon of garlic honey on toast, eat it, and it is not long before I am feeling better. The sniffles and scratchy throat ease and then cease after several days. For me it works.

This is my garlic honey recipe:

6 garlic cloves

3 ounces local raw honey

Finely chop the garlic. Add honey to garlic and mix. Store in clean, dry glass jar for up to three months. Enjoy!

Garlic Honey, 2021

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Lotus #3 – Movement

I was a college swimmer. Backstroke, specifically.

I love swimming. . I remember learning to swim when I was four years old. From that moment on it was virtually impossible to keep me out of the pool. My earliest involvement in competitive sport was swimming. Tuesday night races during the summer at our community pool. Then, I discovered synchronized swimming and that absorbed my time for many years. I loved going to practice all year long because it meant being in the water. This was the 1970s and synchronized swimming was not yet an Olympic sport. As a seventh grader I dreamed of that possibility, and pondered whether I could make a life in synchronized swimming, after all Esther Williams did. Our team made it as far as the Junior Olympics one year. Life became busy after that and sports shifted to only what I could do at high school.

I went to a small Division III college and was presented with the  opportunity to return to competitive swimming. It felt so good to be back in the water as a part of a team with a purpose around sport. Collegiate swimming provided me with so much that was good and positive but it also came with a framework to fully absorb and integrate all of the unhealthy and unhelpful aspects of fitness culture into my life, distorted body image, patriarchal standards of beauty, and all. Although I had been internalizing those messages my entire life,  prior to collegiate swimming competitive sports had not been one of the areas that provided those messages. Not until collegiate swimming. 

Collegiate swimming taught me to workout. To push myself to the edge. This was the 1980’s and one of the slogans was “No pain, no gain.” The mentality permeated the workouts. It did provide structure and clear expectations for me . That was something I understood and could work with. And, so I did, for the next 25 years or so. 

During those years my workouts fluctuated from rigorous to non-existent. It really depended upon my motivation at the moment. I was on a winning triathlon team because a cyclist friend needed someone for the open water swimming portion. When I decided to become an Outward Bound instructor, I had to meet the running standard and so I did. When I decided it was time to have children, it was time to lose weight and get in shape  as a means of preparing my body for pregnancy and afterwards, so I did. When I didn’t have a concrete goal I would take a hiatus until I found one. And, then I would feel guilty about the hiatus. Underlying it all were the those three trappings – fitness culture, distorted body image, and patriarchal standards of beauty. 

Over time my words began to change. I dropped “athlete.” I dropped “fitness.” I dropped “exercise.” I dropped “work out.” I dropped “diet.” I began to think about a new word – movement.  I reached out to yoga in 1999. Yoga has been slowly and gently seeping into the fiber of who I am and my relationship with my body. My relationship with movement has been evolving over all of these years and I didn’t even realize it.

One day right before COVID19 lockdowns began I was running and my brain was swarming with lots of thoughts related to body image, exercise, food, especially around the idea that nothing is wrong with my body and that my body knows intuitively what it needs. While running that afternoon my mind began to consider the question: why do I run? And suddenly, with crystal clear clarity, I heard the response: “I run so I can roam freely.” I run so that I can roam freely. What I meant by that is I run so that my body can eat what it wants to eat, drink what it wants to drink, and feel how it wants to feel. But most importantly, I run so that my body can do what it wants to do. I run so that I can climb a mountain, hike, swim the Bay, dance with my husband, play with my kids and some day grandkids, work the land in our garden. Roaming freely also occurs in my mind and my imagination. I run so that I can clearly receive messages, so I can unleash my creativity, so I can see possibilities.

I use to say I was training to be 85. That is still part of it but now it is more defined by the interrelationship of mind, body, spirit, community, and world that I want to be able to experience when I am 85. I run so that I can roam freely;  so that I can do those things and not think:, “I can’t.” My body is all right as it is; and, it knows what it needs. It is truly my partner in this life, if I am willing to listen.

The moment that I listened to and clearly heard my body’s answer my relationship with “working out” shifted. It became about movement. It became about listening to my body and asking it what it needs. 

How do I do this?

  • I ask questions and listen for answers. Sometimes the answers come in the moment and sometimes they appear later. I try not to set my time schedule on the answers. I endeavor to remain patient and know that I will receive the answers when the time is right.
  • I awaken slowly. I have been getting up at 4am for so long that I often awake before my alarm clock so I am able to turn it off before it announces itself. I check in with how I am feeling. I stretch while still in bed and take account of any aches and pains I may have developed throughout the night  so that I can address them throughout the day. 
  • Once awake and up, Winston (our bull mastiff family member) and I head out for our morning walk.
  • I get up and move around every hour throughout the work day. Short or long. Walking or free flowing movement.
  • I rest and breathe. As often as I feel is necessary.
  • This body of mine is meant to move so I look for opportunities for movement in the things I love to do. Some are easy to see like gardening or hiking or yoga. Others are more subtle like moving to a song I love or moving while cooking or stretching in the shower or playing with Winston.
  • When I am stressed I may go for a run or bike. That pent up energy needs to be moved and released and sometimes that is the only way to do it.

I still swim. No longer competitively  and no more strenuous work outs. Now, I swim to silence the noise and move my body in a way it likes and in an environment that feels like home.

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Lotus #2 – Place/Community

The land gets inside of us; and we must decide one way or another what this means, what we will do about it.

-Barry Lopez
 
 

I live in a complicated place.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I came to be here, in this place at this moment in time. I am aware of much that transpired in this place before I arrived and I know my knowledge is incomplete. I am a work in progress. As long as I am here, I seek to connect with the whole of this place, to see things as they are, with open eyes and a soft heart.  

I live on the stolen land of the Piscataway, Nentego, and Susquehannock peoples. The stories and the knowledge that passes through their ancestral lines is embedded in this Earth. This Earth connects these First Nations, through memory and history and ancestry and stewardship. I appreciate and respect their stories, and I honor and learn from them. I acknowledge and am thankful for the stewardship and love of this land by the First Nations, their deep roots that have nourished it, and their elders past, present, and emerging who continue to shine their light.  

This land now also holds the successes and memories of the Europeans who came here, as well as the stories of the conflicts and suffering that they brought with them: wars, diseases, genocide, slavery, hatred, corruption, white supremacy. As a woman, I have a complicated history with this part of the story. Women as both perpetrators and subjugated. As a descendant of these Europeans I bear the weight of it all, and am responsible for it as a beneficiary.  

I experience place as being rooted in an understanding of the natural environment and the cultural environment. When I lived on Smith Island (see blog post, January 2021) it was the immediate recognition of both that I sensed upon my arrival on the ferry that very first time. In a way I was remembering that simple formula – natural environment + cultural environment – as soon as I saw Tylerton. It all came down to the sweet spot where the human experience and the landscape were one. There is a feeling that arises when a place speaks to the depths of one’s being. Something churns. Something resounds. It’s not recognition, exactly. More like something awakens.  

My adventure on Smith Island was to dive into that crossroads between the landscape and humanity. To discover all I could about the natural history of the marshes, beaches, sea grass meadows, oyster reefs, and open bay while diving into the culture of the community – the church, the language, the post office, the store, the tiniest sewage treatment plant, the one-room schoolhouse, mailboat delivery, cemetery practices, stories and folklore, culinary traditions, gender expectations, working the water. Along the way, the exploration changed. Tylerton was rooted in me.  

This place where I live now, just north of Baltimore City, is different. I am sentimental about it. After all, it is home. My childhood memories are here. We’ve built a family here. The dead on my mother’s side of the family are buried here, going back to 1893. But that deep sense of connection to the Earth and this place does not come easily. It is something I have to strive to intentionally create between me and this place.    

This place has seen it all. Before George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore and after. It knows all that has come to pass. And, it remembers, all of it. It is my responsibility to listen and learn from this place as a way of respecting and honoring our common humanity, and thereby creating a new relationship with this place, this point on the Earth that I call home. A relationship based upon listening to what this place has to teach me and then building my own deep-Earth-centered practices to be able to continually tap into the teachings it has for me. A relationship that entails responsibility for the place and the communities around me. A responsibility that is based upon recognition, honoring, healing, and atonement, to this place. A responsibility that grows into sacred connection and purpose.  

I can only do this if I strive to comprehend the whole. This is a life-long process of listening, feeling, learning, and action. Some of the ways for me are:

  • Engaging in humanity-centered work such as continuous food drives, supporting a women’s shelter, projects to support families and patients with developmental disabilities and disorders of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system, and social action initiatives.
  • Working with high school students who teach me so much about their lived experience, and afford me the opportunity to support them in making their dreams come true.
  • Combining ancient practices such as blessings and meditation with aromatherapy based on the native plants of my ecoregion, thus connecting the past and the present.
  • Engaging with the local native plant society, natural history society, and nature center.
  • Identifying the stars, planets, and constellations that inhabit the seasonal night time sky, and striving to learn more.
  • Acts of Restorative Kindness that seek to restore native ecosystems. More information: https://wearetheark.org/
  • Creating and nurturing a backyard garden for wildlife that provides access to food, water, cover, and places to raise young. More information: https://nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife
  • Growing our own food with sustainable practices
  • More ideas are available in the January 2021 post.

As often as possible I get my hands in the soil. Digging. Feeling. Smelling. Listening. Doing so connects me not only to the present work I am doing and the future growth I hope to see in my garden and my self, but also to all of those who have called this place home before me.              

             

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Earth/Nature

You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.
  • Wendell Berry
As I shared last month, I discovered throughout the past year that I have twelve American Lotuses that are available to me each day as my foundation. They form a framework for approaching every day (for details on how and why they are American Lotuses check out my 7 December 2020 post). They are all different sizes. Some are scraggly. Some are well-formed. Some days I am diligent about tapping in to them and some days it is more free-form. They all have one thing in common – they are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of. My intention is to share one lotus each month. So, here we go with the first I one.
Lotus #1: Earth/Nature
Growing up I was well aware of my German ancestry. My mother was very proud that her grandparents immigrated to Maryland in the late 1800’s. She knew her grandfather and shared with us the snippets of the family’s life before the USA, when we were willing to listen. No firm tie to a place prior to their arrival however. Generalizations – Germany, Austria-Hungary.
My father didn’t share anything. Not because of his abiding commitment to an overwhelming silence, but because he simply did not know. This not knowing ran deep. There was some inkling that his ancestor – why he identified with only one person I don’t know – came to the land that would become the state of Georgia as an indentured servant in the 1700s. That was it. (I still don’t know if that was accurate.) I rarely saw my grandmother and my aunt, I have no cousins on my dad’s side of the family tree, my grandfather died in 1945, and my dad’s aunt and cousins were scattered across the country from Arizona to Georgia to New Jersey.
I felt a strong lack of rootedness, in anything. I didn’t feel a tie to a place or a people. There was nothing that rooted me to where I was and there was nothing that drove me towards another place. I was very aware of this as a child. The more I learned about other cultures the more I felt disconnected from a place, a tradition, a people. I would get mad when I thought about it. There had to be more than just being a white person. I knew I had to be made up of people from distant lands with unique cultures that had been forgotten overtime by my nearest relatives. I desperately hoped I would find traditions to hold on to. I had to go out and actively and consciously seek it.
This rootlessness combined with a 7th Grade family tree project and my father’s illness compelled me to know and understand more. It took years for me to realize that I was attempting to reconnect with ancestral memories that had long been forgotten from time and neglect. All those years I was getting mad it was because those ancestors were whispering to me, wanting to be re-discovered, to be remembered. In an earlier post [17 February 2019] I discussed the ancestors I have uncovered and the importance of honoring their memory.
What I didn’t expect was to find clues about place and roots on a tiny off-shore island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s the thing about place, it awakens something deep within when you least expect it.
I remember the first time I saw Smith Island, crossing Tangier Sound on a workboat-turned-ferry, 10 miles from the mainland, giant sheets of ice floating around us. The Chesapeake Bay had frozen that winter and travel was just resuming. It was beautiful. Our first stop, and my only stop – the town of Tylerton. When we docked at Tylerton, I just knew. Elevation 3 feet above sea level. 1 mile around. An island. 94 people – descendants of the original English and Welsh settlers from 1659-1686, A town that was it’s own island. Isolated. I didn’t know what I knew exactly but I knew. Something was rising up inside of me.

Smith Island, 1991

This is where I learned about edges. This is where I learned to see the spaces in between. Being in Tylerton felt as though all was as it should be. Exploring the edges of the marshes. The transition between low marsh and high marsh. The sea grass meadows and the deeper channels. The guts and the thoroughfares. The power of a storm – the quickness of it’s emergence and the swiftness of the recovery. The wind that pushes all of the water out and the one that pushes all of the water in. The transition periods between the seasons. Edges. Shifting not stationary. Ebb and flow. Yes, being “away” was important but living “within” this community was so much more important. On this island, with these people, I was comfortable. And, because of that, I was able to test myself on the edges. Driving boats. Exploring “guts” (waterways through marshes). Sitting still in the salt marsh. Learning their traditions. Finding the wildness in my self. One with the Bay and the Sound.

Smith Island, 1991

This is where I discovered my compulsion to lay down and look up. Outside that is. Sometimes during daytime. Sometimes during nighttime. Sometimes when warm. Sometimes when cold. Sometimes in snow. Sometimes in rain. Sometimes in high marsh. Sometimes on beaches. Sometimes in salt flats. Sometimes in water. Always making full-body contact with the Earth.

I answered the deep call from the wetland with a passion to know and experience all I could about it. This place reawakened a deep connection to the Earth that had been a part of me as a child. Running free, and barefoot, in all weather. Taking rain showers. Exploring forests and streams. Digging with my hands in my garden of Forget-me-nots, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and herbs. Rising with the sunlight and staying up to run under the moon light. These experiences had forged a deep recognition in me of my relationship with the Earth. I found that connection once again on this island.

So, why did I leave this island? Because it was time. And, as I came to say later, “I had to leave because if I didn’t I wouldn’t.” There were new things to learn and it was time to explore them. And so, I moved back to the 1940’s urban-ring-suburb I grew up in. I am as far removed as I can be from checking the tides before leaving the house, standing on the salt meadow with brackish wind on my face, or using the stars to guide me. I can turn on my car from within my house so that it is warm when I get in during the winter and cool when I get in during the summer. It is possible for me to go 2 meters from our house to my car and another 22 meters from my car into our school at the beginning of the day and the reverse at the end of the day, and have that 52 meters be the only time I go outside all day long.
I have since discovered that not only do I have those deep German roots but I have deep Celtic roots in Ireland and Scotland. I am finally uncovering my deep ancestral traditions and memories. These roots of mine are entwined within deep-Earth-centered traditions, as are all people’s who journey through ancestral time discover. That is what my ancestors have gifted to me and that is what this wild island reminded me. These deep-Earth-centered traditions root me. They also keep me from disconnecting from the Earth. They empower me and challenge me to find ways to maintain my wildness, to accept responsibility for how our family lives our lives, to commit to life and authenticity while I live my life in service to our high school students in this suburban community.
Each day I root into this sacred Earth to find ways to nourish my flow, vitality, contentment, resilience, creativity, and to honor and steward the Earth and all she is.
This means:
  • I start my day with a 4am morning walk with our dog, Winston.
  • I rise before the sun and greet her each day with a moment of silence followed by a verse/mantra/prayer.
  • I wear an ammonite around my neck to remind me that in geologic time we are all connected and all come from stardust (read Neil Tyson deGrasse for more thoughts on how we are stardust).
  • I walk barefoot outside at least once a day in the grass or the garden.
  • I integrate herbal knowledge into my daily wellness routines.
  • I take a cue from my own AP Environmental Science lesson plans and have a place I return to outside each day to sit and see what the universe needs me to hear.
  • I park far away from any building I am entering so that I can walk even longer outside.
As a family we:
  • Practice ceremonies/traditions connected to the seasons.
  • Maintain a nature centerpiece on our table that changes seasonally
  • We read stories/folklore that corresponds to the seasons.
  • We grow our own vegetables and herbs.
  • We make time on the weekend to adventure and explore outside together.
Above all, as often as possible, I try to lay down and look up when I am outside. The feeling of being one with the Earth and being small compared to everything else still roots me.

I’m back!

GREETINGS, again, world!

In November 2019 I was in the midst of a conversation with Britt Kolo, the creator of MarketingPersonalities.com when I received a call that one of my high school students had died in a horrific accident. A beautiful, vibrant, talented, young life was taken in a freak accident that could neither have been predicted nor prevented. Everything shifted at that moment. I began to question this journey I was on. Why was I even trying to write a blog? Why was I trying to share my thoughts? Why did I think I had something to share? Why was I making any of the decisions I was making if life is so fleeting?

The result, I stopped working on the blog in January 2020. I tried to keep my social media posts going. But that too suffered from my growing silence. I followed a hunch that I needed to look deeply into what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how I was doing it. I didn’t intend for it to take most of the year but 2020 has been an unusual year to say the least. My intent was to look deeply into my creativity and to re-connect with it. My approach was a sabbatical. A time to delve intellectually and emotionally into the work of knowing myself as a creative. 

SABBATICAL 

  • “a period to devote oneself entirely to the development of a new and transformative project — whether that is writing a book, conducting fieldwork abroad or learning new teaching pedagogies.” 
  • -“transition into the kind of concentrated period of creative work that is difficult to accomplish on a typical academic schedule.”

I remember reading articles in the Chronicle of High Education a couple of years back about all of the think-abouts one should consider when going on sabbatical. Lots of advice to be bold in the development of one’s sabbatical. I decided to put those ideas to use during my time away form the blog. I began by setting my learning goal: to make peace with my creativity and to bring it into the open, fresh air and space so that it can breathe and speak. I considered all of the ways I see creativity expressed in my life and all of the ways I re-fuel it. 

I joined a group of amazing creative women from around the world in Anna Lovind’s Creative Doer course https://annalovind.com/the-creative-doer-community-2/ and I began to focus on daily acts of creativity and connecting with creative women. Wow! A powerful group of creative women accepting and supporting creative women in the pursuit of their dreams. I was exploring the creative work that nourishes the rest of my life.  I was re-emerging. 

And then, COVID-19. Quarantine. Social Justice protests. Environmental disasters.  Economic hardships. My creativity stopped. I found myself without words. That’s not entirely accurate, either. I found myself with lots of thoughts, feeling, emotions, reactions, but nothing came out. Even as I shared with our high school students the importance of creating in quarantine – whatever that looks like – and how much the world needs creatives during COVID, I couldn’t do it myself. 

I realized that I needed to go back to the the practices that connect me to who I am and my place in this big, beautiful universe. 

I shifted my goals. 

1. 20 in 20 Adventure Challenge from Hike Like A Woman (HLAW). This has been an opportunity to create my own adventures and broaden my idea of an adventure.  As HLAW explains, “an adventure is whatever you want it to be! For some an adventure might be reading an adventure book, a trip abroad, or a hike down a trail that they’ve never been on before. For others an adventure might be learning a new skill or starting a new habit.” The 20 adventures I will have completed this year look very different than the ones I envisioned in January 2020. Gone are the new countries and swimming in new places. In are the home-based adventures that spontaneously emerged. COVID has been an adventure all of it’s own.   https://hikelikeawoman.net/

2. 365 mile challenge in 2020. Get outside and move! 1 mile every day or 365 miles total in 2020. It all counts –  walk, run, hike, swim, bike, paddle. It’s not competitive, it’s collaborative as we share our success and challenges with each other. https://www.365milechallenge.org/

3. 52-books in 2020. In 2019 I read 33 books and set my sights on 52 books in 2020. All genres represented. With four weeks to go I am only at 75% but it’s doable. 

4. Delving deeper into herbalism and aromatherapy, and my ancestral lineages associated with them. I’ve completed so many great courses in 2020 with Aromahead Institute https://www.aromahead.com/ and The Herbal Academy https://theherbalacademy.com/. The Intermediate Herbal Course and the Natural Perfumery course are two of my favorites, and I am in the final stages of aromatherapy certification. 

5. Working closely with my teacher, Britt Steele, and finishing the year with the annual 108 day Pilgrim. www.brittbsteele.com 

6. Coming back to my writing.

What I learned along the way is that I have everything I need and everything I have been searching for is already inside of me. It has been there all along waiting for me to see it. Waiting for me to see the interconnectedness. Waiting for me to free my creativity. Waiting for me to jump back into the work of creating meaning and sharing it with others in support of our collective remembering of our creative, powerful, unique feminine wisdom and knowledge.  

The last conversation that Britt Steele and I had before our family escaped to a cabin this summer, was about lily pads as a metaphor for those things that that we go back to in order to re-connect and ground. Tucked away from our daily lives of work and obligation, my husband and I went hiking. As we emerged over a hill, there in Winston Lake, was a thriving community of Nelumbi lutea, American Lotus. The American Lotus is distinguishable from lily pads because it is round like a pancake. They are so amazing!

 

I have learned so much from these beautiful American Lotuses:

The American Lotus grows in shallow water but then moves out to depths of 5 or 6 feet. Reminding me to ground myself first and then I am able to confidently move into unknown depths.

The American Lotus opens in the sun and closes at dusk. Reminding me of the importance of daily rhythms. To be in tune with the natural world. We are a part of the ecosystem, not a-part from it. 

The stem in the center of the leaf of the American Lotus draws oxygen into the plant. Reminding me that breath is life, and that, like life, I cannot control my breath but I can awaken my breath to move through and with it. Breath affects how I receive everything happening around me. Being breathed makes way for life itself. 

The American Lotus comes together to form fields. Reminding me that when all of my lotuses come together each day, my creativity flourishes, my limbic system is nourished, and I am at my best for the divine work of supporting my family and community. 

I don’t have it all figured out. And, this isn’t about getting it, whatever it is, perfect. This is about finding my way through the mess and imperfections of each day. It is about finding the tools that support me and using them each day. The best part of each day is the chance to begin again.

I discovered I have twelve American Lotuses that are available to me each day as my foundation. They are all different sizes. Some are scraggly. Some are well-formed. Some days I am diligent about tapping in to them and some days it is more free-form. They all have one thing in common – they are always available to integrate me and this land and universe I am part of.

Here they are, my 12 lotuses:

  1. Earth/Nature
  2. Place/Land
  3. Movement
  4. Healthy-Happy
  5. Space
  6. Slow Down
  7. Music/Meditate
  8. Breathe
  9. Teachings/Teachers
  10. Wisdom-holder
  11. Ritual/Ceremony
  12. Divinity

I’m so pleased with my sabbatical. The path has been different than I imagined but I have come to the other side ready to move forward. Each month in 2021 I’m going to share something about one of my lotuses. I’m also going to send out the newsletter again to share what I am listening to, reading, watching, etc.

This isn’t about me knowing the way. I know a way, my way. Right now, this way is working for me, and at a later time, it may shift again. Just because it is my way, doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else and that’s not the purpose of sharing. The purpose of sharing is to nurture community, to share experiences, to learn from with each other, to connect to our shared wisdom and knowledge. If you have made it this far in this post, be sure to sign up for the monthly newsletter at: https://tinyurl.com/ACrunchyLifeNewsletter

Thanks for joining me on this new adventure!

Advent!

December 1st! ❤🎄🌟 Christmas construction has begun! We have transitioned from the orange celebrations to the red ones – amping up energy, light, beauty, and joy. Christmas Spirit essential oil blend is back in our daily rotation. Our mantra for the month is “Breathe in, the light and love of the season. Breathe out, embody the light and love of the season.” 

Today is not only the beginning of December; it is also the beginning of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, “to come,” and is observed throughout the four Sundays leading to Christmas. It has been observed since the fifth century with themes of watchfulness, preparation, and hope. Advent is a season of light and love.

By the end of the day today we will have placed our wreaths and candles in the windows of our home; set up our manger; prepared our advent wreath; found a special stone to add around our advent wreath; read together Day 1 of our St. Nicholas stories; and reflected on our first week of advent verse.

The light of hope. The first light of advent is the light of stone. Stones that lie in crystals, sea shells, and bones. 

For our Advent verse we combine each of a Rudolph Steiner’s Advent verses with one of the four Advent themes. For this week it is stones and hope.

Our elf, Fred Woodchomp, also returned today. Fred moves around the house at night and leaves little notes to be found the next morning. His notes are focused around seasonal reminders and holiday preparations as well as the advent verse for each week. He gives the girls tasks to accomplish such as stories to read aloud, actions to take for animals, loved ones, and strangers, etc. so that we are continually focusing on the meaning of the season. Fred stays with us until Epiphany and helps fill the season with peace, kindness, light, and love for all. Last year Fred asked the girls to take a minute each day to write something nice about each other and tie it to the strings on their bedroom doors. The next morning the girls woke up to find the notes they wrote to each other and a candy cane. I was please to see that he continued asking them to do this again this year. Two sisters, 4 years apart in age, can sometimes forget to see how special each other are. It is important for each of them to take some time to sit and reflect on their relationship as well. It helps  them grow stronger together.

With all of the focus on doing and hurrying and obligation that the holiday season can bring, Advent reminds our family to slow down and be intentional about the things we choose to do that will fill our lives with the spirit of the season. We don’t try to fill our days with obligation and busy-ness. We focus on what is meaningful for us and that which brings hope, joy, peace, and love to our family and others. We focus on savoring each moment and day. On filling ourselves with the light and love of the season, and turning that love and light back out into the universe for others. Plus, its a great opportunity to grab a fuzzy blanket, something warm to drink, and a book to read together or just have a chat as we gather together in the evening in front of a glowing fire.

Light gives hope and beauty.

How do you kick off this season of light and love? 

Intention + Patience + Intuition = The Making of Cacao Bitters

I am so excited about this post. I know it doesn’t look like much from the picture but it represents a new learning and growth point for me. I love herbs. I love growing them and using them in cooking, body products, beverages, and all sorts of other ways to support wellness. I am always reading and growing in my herbal knowledge. But, I play it safe in my making. I make things that don’t require me to stretch beyond my comfort and knowledge boundaries. I’m not sure what keeps me from really experimenting. Fear, I suppose, is at the root of it.  Of getting it wrong. Of it not working or not tasting good. I don’t have that fear in any other cooking but there it is, rearing it’s ugly head in herbal preparations.

One herbal preparation that has interested me for so long is bitters. I have used them for making, as my oldest would say, “adult beverages.” A friend of our family brought us back the biggest bottle of Angostura bitters from Trinidad that I have ever seen. The size of the bottle was amazing. How could one person or family use it all? I knew there had to be more to why bitters are so integral in other cultures. 

Italians, for example, have Aperol and Campari, both of which I have loved for years as an aperitif. It wasn’t until I began learning more about bitters that I realized that Aperol and Campari begin as herbal bitters – with the base ingredient being Gentiana latea (gentian) root. The history of bitters goes all the way back to the master formula created more than two thousand years ago. Mithridates, king of Pontus, an ancient kingdom on the southern shores of the Black Sea, developed the first recorded bitters formula in the Western world. China has a much older, well-documented history of the use of bitters. In Central America bitters evolved from blending cacao with other additives.  

Bitters supports digestion of food. They are touted with being able to soothe the walls of the GI, ease cramping in the intestine, relieve gas, relieve an upset stomach, They can have a calming effect on the nervous system. They can be created to support the cardiovascular system, skin, digestive system, and that is just the beginning. As I began to learn more and more about the cultural and wellness reasons bitters are so highly valued I began to be intrigued by how they are made.  

I finally decided to take the leap. The making of bitters is one aspect of herbalism that I had never explored. But bitters kept speaking to me and peaking my interest so I decided it was time to listen to the messages and give it a go. After all, making bitters seems to be a great way to meld traditional knowledge with modern needs and the research and creativity available to us. I wonder if there is an ancestral memory that has had bitters calling to me. But that’s for another post. 🙂 

As I mentioned in my 7 July 2019 post, I am having a love affair with cacao right now. I love the rich flavor and the thousands of years of history that comes with it. So when I came upon Guido Masé’s Cacao Bitters recipe that he shared in The Herbal Academy, I had to try it. Now I have a lovely after-dinner bitters that I can use in drinks or on its own with a little hot water and honey. I love the fact that it is not a quick-make. It takes intention. Patience. Time. First, I made the tinctures with each of the herbal ingredients. This required each of them to sit and rest for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks before they could be combined to form the bitters. In the end, the combination of cacao, damiana, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, cayenne, and raw honey relaxes my mind and spirit and is lovely for closing out a meal.  

I’m so glad I jumped into making bitters. I put fear to the side and decided to trust my herbal knowledge and techniques, and my intuition. The result is I am having so much fun exploring different combinations of herbs. I have lots of plans for experimenting with formulating my own blends, and can’t wait to see what I create.  

For more on bitters check out:

Herbal Academy:  

Book:

DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor by Guido Masé and Jovial King 

Instagram: @urbanmoonshine

Darkness and Martinmas

I love the time from Michaelmas (9/29) to Candlemas (2/2). But it hasn’t always been that way. Daylight becomes shorter during this time, with darkness greeting us as we head to and from school each day. I use to dread this time of the year. I would wrestle with the inner turmoil of loving winter and detesting darkness. The darkness and the cold made me feel trapped, sluggish, and unmotivated. The only part I enjoyed was after swim practice I would walk outside and my hair would freeze. I would smile and laugh about it. Within minutes of being back inside my hair would return to the wet mess it was.
As our children arrived in our lives my perception of this time of the year began to change. It wasn’t just because our oldest was born during the darkest of winter. Rather, it was because I decided to love the darkness and celebrate it as a time of renewal and reflection. To accept that the darkness could actually snuggle me through the winter to the light of spring.
I decided to bring light – the stars and the sun – inside. Twinkle lights. Candles. Fires in the fireplace. I began to see light all around me, and I began to understand that I may choose to bring and be light as well. Now, as a family we journey towards the deepest darkest days of the year and have steps along the way which help us to know that the light will once again return and to know that we can be and bring light as well. Our family will mark this time of the year with:

  • Michaelmas
  • Halloween
  • Dia De Los Muertos
  • Martinmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • Advent
  • St. Nicholas Day
  • Santa Lucia Day
  • Winter Solstice
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • The 12 days of Christmas
  • New Year’s Day
  • Epiphany
  • Candlemas

Today is Martinmas, the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas Day. We will reflect on the story of St. Martin, celebrate with our lanterns, and enjoy a Martinmas Spice Cake. As the legend goes, while serving in the army at Amiens, Martin met a poor man at the city gate. The man was half-naked and cold. Martin drew his sword, cut his warm coat in two, and gave one-half to the man. The following night, Christ appeared to Martin, dressed in the piece of coat that Martin had given away. Martin recognized the divine light in the poor man of Amiens and gave it the protection of his coat. Our lanterns give protection to our own little “flame” that began to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the darkness. It may only be a small and fragile light – but every light brings relief to darkness. (pages 163-164, All Year Round by Ann Druitt).
Light is infused into each of the celebrations we honor at this time of the year. Whether its as candles or lanterns or rings all are designed to help us see our own inner light and how it is powerful enough to drive away darkness. We are reminded that light brings love and the more the world is flooded with light and love the more we are able to conquer darkness where ever we find it. Just imagine the impact if we bring all of our little lights together and shine bright as one.
I strive to learn
To learn to give
To give my heart
To all I see.
I see that I
With heart aflame,
Aflame with Love,
Can light the world!
-verse for ending main lesson written by Rudolf Copple (waldorfpublications.org, blog 14 Dec 2015)
How do you bring light into this time of darkness?