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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas is wonderful, but at the same time, there seems to be this undercurrent of mild sadness. I can’t help but recognize what is missing, or WHO is missing at my holiday, and even when things are lovely I find myself triggered by past memories – longing for times past, or the innocence of the past when I felt confident that my life as it was would go on indefinitely. My mixed emotion is not a depression thing, but a recognition that life involves change, like it or not. My kids can be sitting on the couch a few feet away, and I’m missing them nevertheless- or at least the 7 year old version of them – back when their eyes were filled with excitement and the magic of the season and the holiday was celebrated in  a big way to meet their youthful expectations. I also miss my younger parents and the years when they were more involved in the holiday traditions, and I even miss myself back when I had more energy to go the distance to make every detail perfect.

Christmas reminds me to be thankful for all I have, and to appreciate the people in my life today, but still….. my mind wanders to people who have less, or who are struggling with family or personal problems. I die a little inside as I imagine people I do or do not know personally who are spending their first Christmas alone after the death of a loved one, or who spend Christmas feeling ostracized from a family or community, or for anyone’s whose life has taken a turn to make the holiday feel more empty than full. I think of horrible things I’ve heard happen in the news and imagine the parents of children who’ve been gunned down in school this year or orphans who are in war torn countries, and my mind considers what they are thinking or feeling on this day. The juxtaposition of the merry holiday against life’s bitter reality seems to make the meaning of the holiday poignantly sad while also being sweet.

My heart goes out to all those who feel a twinge of sadness at Christmas, . For those who feel nothing buy joy, I hope they know how important it is to savor and harbor the memories. Such memories are precious and dear . . . even if sometimes, they become the very memories that haunt you in later years.

My Christmas tree is filled with ornaments I’ve collected over the years and each have significant meaning for me.   I’m reminded of people who came and went in my life, experiences I’ve had, places I’ve gone. Two marriages, several careers, dozens of students, friends, trips and more are represented in those ornaments. Each sparkling keepsake is special, each packed with a nugget of joy from the past – but these small meaningful items make me feel the poignancy of faded history too.

I must remember that while honoring the past is important, I must not dwell on past Christmases or people I’ve lost contact with. My energy will be better spent taking the time to savor what I’ve experienced this year … I must store up my memories of this season, for tomorrow, I am likely to miss the people and heartfelt exchanges I’ve been afforded this Christmas just as I miss those that came and went over the years. My aging parents, my loving husband, having two of my three children with me…… these are beautiful holiday gifts, too precious to take for granted. I will miss the small pleasures of this Christmas when the moment is gone.

I guess it is important we all keep the Christmas cup half full – not half empty.

Nothing is etched in stone.

Nothing is etched in stone.

IMG_1206Years ago, when we were building our dream house in the mountains of Georgia, I came across an engraved stone for sale in an art booth at a fall festival. It read, “Nothing is etched in stone.”

I found the sentiment humorous, considering the words were indeed etched in stone, and I felt the find was very unique, so I bought the thing, and when we were cementing in the stone work on our impressive, grand fireplace, we had the stone permanently set into the dramatic rock façade. Within two years, we had lost that house, stone and all – in fact, we lost our life. Our marriage, our dreams, our security, our friends, our family unit, self-confidence and more was wiped away by a series of unexpected mishaps. It was like the stone foreshadowed what was to come.

Recently, I went to visit my daughter in Georgia, and we enjoyed visiting the very same yearly festival. Oddly, all the same booths were set up in the same configuration selling the same things. (Which revealed to me that what seemed such a remarkably unique find the first time around was in reality me naively assigning meaning to a tourist attraction that repeats itself over and over, and all in all, picking up the stone was not as special a treasure as I wanted to make of it. No doubt there are hundreds of people with similar stones also thinking they have something remarkably unique in hand. )

Anyway, on my recent repeat visit, don’t you know I see the same vendor and he is selling the same stones. I had been thinking about that purchase before going to the festival, remembering the day I bought the stone. I knew if I saw another like it, I’d buy it again. And I did.

My daughter lifted her eyebrows quizzically and said, “Are you sure you want that? Isn’t is a reminder of all you lost. Perhaps having that thing in a pace of honor in your home is a bad omen. Do you really want anything from the past as a reminder of that difficult time in your life? ”

I thought about the warning a moment, but decided the stone, while reminiscent of a failed former dream, carried a very important message that deserves contemplation and respect. I brought the stone home, and it rests on our fireplace now, a constant reminder that life doesn’t always unfold as planned. We must appreciate and honor each and every day, because what we have in the here and now is a gift. Everything is impermanent. Our health, our money, our loves, our careers, our homes … everything…. In the end, we will all age, things will drop away and everything we have and we are will be gone. I like this second stone even more than the original, because I have a deeper appreciation for the message now.

There is a story I use when teaching yoga students about impermanence.

Once upon a time, a student asked a wise guru how he could bare the loss and heartache that is part of the human condition. The guru held up a beautiful vase and answered, “Do you see this spectacular vase? It is made of the finest crystal and it was given to me by someone I cared very much about. This vase is one of a kind and very special. I know, one day, the vase will no doubt drop and break into a thousand pieces. When it does, I will not cry because my beautiful vase is broken. I won’t grieve and laminate about what the vase meant to me, or be concerned that I’ll never have such a beautiful vase again. I won’t stress about the lost value, or the empty space created because the vase is missing from the place of honor on my shelf. I will not distress on the day this vase is lost, because in my mind, this vase is already broken. But between now and when this vase is actually gone, I will enjoy the beauty and splendor of the vase every time I look at it, appreciating that this inevitably broken vase is here now, a gift to enjoy.”

I think the stone says the same thing. My life today is a gift, as is my home, my marriage, my career, my business, my health and my current state of heart and mind. Someday, I will lose all of these things – to sickness, or failure, or old age, or death. But between now and then, I hope to nurture and enjoy what I do have, and certainly not spend my energy concerning myself with what was lost from the past. When you see everything you have and are as “inevitably broken”,  there is a soft poignancy and deep appreciation for even the most common moments of life.

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I picked up a few other stones at that second visit to the festival and they rest about on the grounds of the retreat center as fun reminders not to take life too seriously. I hope they remind people that our mind determines our world. What a gift it is to have the power to control how we think and view our experiences. We each have the ability to keep negativity at bay and face every day with gratitude and the wisdom of lessons learned.

A good attitude is everything. That’s a rock solid fact, my friend.

Creative Landscaping

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When we purchased our property and began landscaping, I was constantly struck with awe that David allowed and encouraged me to express myself to my heart’s content. My former husband considered himself the artist of the family, and as such, he took charge in all things pertaining to the design of our home (inside and out). My creativity was not considered much of an important contribution to our world since a more gifted “artist” was making decisions. This doesn’t mean he purposely thwarted my ability to have a voice in our life , and I don’t’ believe he ever intended to dismiss my input, but the dynamic of our relationship definitely put my need for self expression and exploring or developing my artistic gifts second string to his. So, my creative energy, needing a place to go, was channeled into choreography or writing or developing a business –the kinds of pursuits that would not interfere with his joy of creating, step on his toes or rob him of the pleasure of manifesting his vision(s). When you love someone, sacrifice comes naturally, and we make choices to support the object of our affection’s happiness, so my decision to defer to him in artistic areas was never resented nor did it seem unfair. His self-identity and feelings of worth were more wrapped up in being an artist than mine, so he was afforded the role of interior designer of our home, the landscaper, the gardener, the Christmas decorator, etc. I did the laundry and strived to drive the business to keep resources flowing forhim t do his thing. That is just the way it was.

Life is different for me with a new marriage dynamic . My husband, David, is a highly creative man as well, but his interests seem more directed to the mechanics and structural design of things. He harbors a deep appreciation for my creativity and as such, nurtures and encourages it. In the beginning, I felt I had to seek his approval for anything I wanted to do, least he take offense. I didn’t want him to resent me or undo my work, changing anything I put labor into to make it something more his ideal. But over and over, he’d look at me and smile, making clear that he didn’t need or want to impart his own opinion or tamper with my ideas. If I wanted to buy a plant for the garden, and I’d ask his opinion. He’d smile and say, “If you like it, buy it. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.” If I wanted to create a landscape stilllife, he’d simply say, “Gorgeous!”.

Suddenly, my creativity was free to go whatever direction it wanted to go. My only problem now was, if something I did came out stupid or ugly, I’d be the one having to take ownership of it. Ha, a new level of creative concern.

In time, with more and more leeway and never a repercussion to dampen my joy, I gained both the confidence and a sense of value of my own “visions” and creative landscaping is one of my greatest joys.

First, my attention was directed to creating the Chakra garden. The garden was a big investment, so it took both of us brainstorming to envision just what we wanted (and could afford). Creating the garden became a very poignant mutual effort for David and I, with him building the koi pond and using his engineering to figure out and build the basic design, lighting, pathways, sprinkler system, arbors, flowing waterfall, etc… but when the big picture structure was done, I was invited to enjoy putting personal touches around through detail work. I planted flowers, set up colorful pots, hung air plants and orchids, strategically placed crystals, statues, birdbaths, and made mosaic tiles to delineate chakra areas. David’s big role was done when the key components of the garden were in place, but my role has been never-ending. Nature evolves seasonally and as such, I am forever moving plants, added new elements, retiring others, and shifting the placement of décor when the growth of nearby plants changes the juxtaposition of the whole. I often sit out on one of our meditation benches, just letting my eyes wander to the grand scheme, and inevitably, I begin tinkering, moving a statue to the left, noting the need for a new succulent pot to fill a hole, and reaching for my tools to cut back or remove overgrown plants.

When the basic garden design was complete, I moved on to landscaping the areas around the yoga center. The primary project then became the bottle garden. I love stain glass for reasons I won’t get into here, and I’ve addressed the bottle garden before in this blog, so I don’t feel I need to go into too much detail, but the project began with my hanging dozens of colorful bottles from a big oak branch alongside the studio. The bottles had been collected over years from flea markets when I was making cordials, which I have since moved into clear bottles. I delighted in the way the sun lit up the glass hanging from the trees outside. So I added big bottles in the ferns underneath and a few other glass items. We recently put lights on the tree branch to make the bottles show up at night, but I kept saying I just wish the would illuminate more. Just last night, 18 months after our first bottle found a home out here, David put landscape lighting under concrete blocks holding up my bottles. The bottles now light up magnificently at night. I am thrilled! It is perfect.

I added mosaic tiles on the walkway alongside the bottle garden, and hand made grapevine wreaths and bird houses on the yoga studio to further decorate this space. I asked David if he could make me arches to add drama to the gateways. He did, and I planted passion flower vines that quickly covered everything to add gorgeous flavor. It is like entering the secret garden.This area too, will be a work in progress forevermore. I have plans to make a big glass yogi out of bottles to position out in the ferns behind this living art. Will be a challenge, but with David’s help, we can do it, I’m sure.

With bottles a part of our theme now we addressed a particularly ugly area in front of the yoga center. We removed leaning trees and tons of grapevine and weeds to create a clearing. And David then cut up the trunks of those fallen trees and with the help of my son, we created a short log wall that seems almost like another outdoor meditation altar . I tucked in ferns in the crevices and scattered lights about, and loaded this too up with bottles, clear ones this time.

There is more of course. The pond next to the house that David created, covered with blue bottles and plants in blue pots. Just this morning David and I were brainstorming ways to light these bottles as dramatically as those near the yoga center. The curtain arbor to keep cars from parking near the yoga center, a peace pole added by Soraya, my trusted teaching assistant, and a remarkable artist by her own right.

I am busy putting mosaic tiles on birdhouses to cover a fence behind the yoga center in a whimsical way this week.  There are dozens of other projects, gates and small building and more that David has built, too many to mention, and I wish I’d been blogging to share the joy of each project. Ah well.

So now, with living art all around us, we are turning our attention to another very special project. A labyrinth. We’ve been researching, brainstorming, envisioning…..

I’ll write about that next time. Such a dream project deserves a post of its own. The point is, life unfolds in small steps – just as a garden or a retreat center does. The beauty is in the small details, and the extra efforts we make to bypass “good enough” and create a world that is “uniquely special.”

Our lives, and the environment that surrounds us each and every day, deserves our willingness to go the extra mile.

My Million Dollar Donkey gets put to bed.


The other day, I received three versions of book jackets to choose from for my pending publication of a memoir entitled, My Million Dollar Donkey. I chose the one most resembling the description I gave the editor of what I felt would be most appropriate. I’ve been rather excited about what’s to come ever since.

I began My Million Dollar Donkey nine years ago as a series of creative non-fiction essay assignments that I turned in to a professor at Lesley University while I was getting my MFA in fiction. He was the one who said, “These are really great. You should put them all together and write a book ….” Of course, this set the seed of the idea, and my mind started swirling with how I might go about turning those shorter pieces into one comprehensive memoir that explores the bigger themes of that period in my life. I sent one chapter in to a literary contest for New Southerner, a creative non-fiction literary magazine, and it won first place and was selected for their yearly anthology in 2008. If nothing else, this enhanced my feeling that the book concept had merit.

I finished the book hurriedly, and because my life was imploding and we were under extreme financial duress, I sent queries to agents immediately in a desperate hope something good might happen to balance out all the heartache of my life at the time. Out of 40 queries, 27 agents asked to see the book – an unprecedented positive result. Of those, 5 wanted the full manuscript. Of course, I felt all that earnest interest proved the subject matter of the memoir was timely and pertinent to others, but the book was not really polished, so each of those agents politely turned it down. Rightly so. More or less, I blew my wad because of impatience and my desperate desire to validate some element of my life (writing) when nothing else seemed to be working. Big mistake, that.

After life fell apart, I continued working on the book. Partially because that was the only project that seemed to have potential at the time, and I was in no condition to begin something new, but also because writing the book helped me better understand my life and what all the events I was experiencing meant in the bigger picture. Writing memoir is, beyond all else, an act of healing. In 2011 I sent the book in to The Royal Palm Literary Awards” competition and it won first place in the memoir category. . . another stoke that had me feeling the book was significant, but still, the project had a long way to go to be ready for publication.

So I kept working on the manuscript. I’ve been working on the dang book on and off for 9 years total. David read the book before our first date, and has often told me that seeing how I viewed the world was pivotal in his falling in love with me. Having insight into someone’s heart and mind when you are getting to know them offers a huge head start in feeling connected. He has since read the book over 9 times, and given me insightful feedback, done line editing and helped the book evolved from the rough first draft that I stupidly sent agents too soon, to the finished work it is today. I’ve had writing students read the book and give me feedback too, and their enthusiastic responses have fueled my sense that the book is a worthy effort. There is not much more tinkering left to do, and at long last, I could readily see the book was “finished.” So we’ve begun the publishing process – following a self publishing path since I jumped the gun and destroyed other opportunities earlier – and frankly, this is the most practical path now that the evolution of technology and communication has changed the face of traditional publishing forever.

Anyway, the book has been poked, prodded, examined, and reviewed so much I could recite each page by heart (David too) and I felt deeply relieved to send in the final manuscript, knowing that I’d have to forever hold my peace once I hit “send.”

Knowing the story is manifesting and will be available to the world soon is exciting. But I’m left with a feeling that now, I’m meant to begin something new. I certainly don’t plan to be a one shot wonder, and while I have 3 other historical fiction books I’ve written from the past that I could return to (one of which also won several awards and the Literary Palm too), none seem worthy of the time and attention I know is involved in completing a quality finished product. Getting my degree opened my eyes in so many ways. Formal education forever changed the kind of books I want to write. I miss my lost innocence regarding past writing projects that now seem indulgent and lacking quality, because frankly, writing romance was a great escape from my life, like watching an adventure movie where you enjoy two hours of thrilling drama for much needed entertainment after a long day of life’s daily grind. But as one professor often wrote on the margins of my paper – “You can do better.” I believe I’m meant to do better at this juncture of my life.

So, I am pondering the next project – letting the next book percolate in my heart and mind. I am never sure when I begin writing what the big picture will be when finished, but at least I have an idea of where I might begin. This will be book two in the ongoing adventure of my life- with the metaphor of planting a Chakra garden driving the story. This memoir will be about my adventures in yoga, healing, recovery from the circumstances of book one (Donkey) and about the manifesting of a retreat center. It will be about learning to love again, forgiveness, and gracefully living through the embarrassment of defeat. It will explore the complex web of entering a new stage of life when children leave home, careers change, and life moves on under the constant strain of a shorter risk horizon. How’s that for a mountain to climb?

They say to write is to live life twice. When you are writing memoir, that is not exactly an appealing thought, considering so much of life is a challenge and our greatest lessons often come wrapped in painful paper. Ah well. I’m excited to learn my own heart and mind regarding all that has transpired. And while putting Donkey to bed at long last is deeply satisfying, doing so reminds me that constant and never-ending growth as a person and an artist, means it is time to return to the introspective process of writing my life story once again……

Writing is hard. Time consuming. The return on your investment of time and effort, at least in monetary ways, is hard to justify when you have bills to pay and real life obligations. But I am meant to write, not just for myself, but for others. I truly believe that. So a new story must begin.

Neighbors and Enemies

The last year has been one of my most difficult. Not emotionally – I’ve survived far worse in regards to seasons of heartache and loss during times of transition – (divorce/moving/family squabbles, oh my!). This particular year was difficult because of the sheer effort I put out to achieve a goal that never quite manifested. Hard work can’t begin to describe the risk and sweat equity David and I heaped onto our plate as we followed opportunity and instinct to turn our retreat center into a wedding venue. It was never a conscientious choice, but rather something that unfolded piece by piece, beginning with our wedding a year ago, and escalating like a snowball rolling downhill as others came forward wanting to tie the knot on what has become a remarkable, beautiful and inspirational property. It wasn’t that we wanted a wedding venue, but we are still both recovering from our lives imploding through divorce and financial devastation a few short years ago, and when you are our age (56-62) you have to embrace opportunity when it comes if you ever hope to get on your feet again and/or retire.

We originally hoped to schedule a dozen weddings a year or so to support the retreat center and provide wiggle room financially to continue doing some of the free programs we feel are important to the community. But as more and more brides contacted us, we were seduced into making our little sideline activity into a full-fledged second business. Heartwood Weddings was born, and this vision demanded a full year of planning and hard work, because what we couldn’t afford to hire out we did ourselves. Inspired by a strong business plan and guarantees from the county that we would indeed be permitted to expand our retreat center to include weddings if we did everything they asked, we scrambled to raise funds. I sold my dance school at a loss, David sold his house at a loss, we took family loans and emptied his retirement account to invest 6 figures to upgrade the property, get permits, work with the SBA to arrange a loan, and hire designers and contractors to property design, expand and build a new building to house the weddings so as not to be intrusive to our neighbors. Meanwhile, my natural gift for marketing and managing a business led to our creating a new business model for a garden wedding venue that made weddings very affordable with all the elegand costly extras included, and I created films, a website, marketing plan to establish our place in the industry. It became a full time job in addition to my running the yoga center. David left his job and devoted a full year to his involvement in the project, and he became a wedding celebrant, writing original ceremonies for couples. He loves marrying people more than either of us every imagined he would.

But as luck would have it, a very nasty neighbor decided he wanted to put a stop to our activities, and he began a slanderous campaign designed to interfere with our permit process . It began with a forum he posted on a boating forum that grew to over a hundred pages of people discussing ways to take us down. A letter writing campaign to authorities and neighbors, and urging people to help him cause us distress worked. We were attacked personally and professionally, and not just in regards to weddings, but at my yoga studio in town. Since he offered personal information about me to his audience, people we didn’t even know began calling our home and my studio to leave nasty messages. My facebook pages were overrun with negative reviews, including my yoga center – all from people who never did business with us. I had personal e-mails and posts on my Facebook page calling me all kinds of horrible things with ugly accusations.

An example:

facebook comment

Meanwhile, each time we met with county authorities to iron out the problems suddenly blowing up in our face, our representative told us that the neighbor, Chris, calls officials every single day and even they were getting angry that their words were being twisted on his forum. “There is something wrong with that man,” one official told me. “He really has a problem.”

No kidding.

I could go on and on about the financial and emotional damage done to us, and the unfairness of it all. I could go on and on about how the county gave us inaccurate information and suddenly back peddled due to this neighbor’s interference. I could go on and on about Florida cyber bullying statues and karma and payback and whatnot. I could rant about the neighbors lies that he posted and the way he twisted facts and subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated others to do his dirty work. I could go on and on about the history of this man that we learned as others contacted us to show support and disgust over his behavior, and how we learned he has done this to others, how he often uses the internet to bully others to get what he wants. Yes, I could go on and on . . . But really, what is the point, other than to vent? I rather not devote my private writing time to hashing over the gross misdeeds of a very sad neighbor.

So I will not address any of these emotional issues here. It is 6 days before Christmas, and we have not had any wedding activity for over a month at Heartwood, and my neighbor has no clue of what we are doing or why, yet he continues to write on his forum, telling tales, acting out, drawing out the issue as if he would be lost without this to talk about. It is sad. My neighbor may have nothing to do with his time other than talk on and on to strangers in a forum as if they were friends, making up stories and portraying a different image of himself to feel connected or important, but others of us have real connections and real issues to deal with. And our time is much better spent doing things that are positive and productive rather than stir up discord for entertainment.

Life is hard enough. If you have to make up drama to amuse yourself, it is time to rethink your life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the time Chris has spent on the internet, writing on the forum. Since he achieved what he set out to achieve in the beginning, why is he still there every day ? Habit? Boredom? Loneliness? Fear that we might survive his attack and be awarded the permit in the end – which would really leave him with egg on his face after all the tales he spun. As a writer who has blogged for over 10 years, I understand that people, when feeling isolated or lonely, often turn to an imaginary community online in a desperate need to find an audience for his or her voice. The more our world becomes once removed from intimate, personal relationships, the more we live vicariously through made up identities on Facebook or forums. Chris is a big man on his forum. Important. And he has lots of friends there. Otherwise, his house is rather set apart from the world and he is there often alone. No wonder he can’t seem to let things go in the other world he created.

I pondered his motivation for continuing his forum a great deal, until I could no longer think of my neighbor as a villain, but as a very lonely, sad individual whose life lacks substance, or he certainly wouldn’t have hours and hours available each week to hash about an issue that has long since dissolved (for him, not for us, of course, since we are the ones reeling from the damage he created.) I now watch his surly wife come and go, never smiling, always complaining that she can’t get enough sleep because she works long hours as a nurse. I’m told she has shared her measure of nasty commentary on the forum too (I actually don’t’ read the forum and never have, but my employee and friends tell me what transpires when they are too furious to keep it to themselves). Meanwhile, I watch Chris amuse himself shooting guns and puttering with his boat, taking it out on weekends without his tired wife. He goes about his life, and she hers, and that too seems really sad to me. So, instead of anger, I feel sorry for my neighbors. Granted, I don’t savor living next door to people like this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel empathy for them too.

The interesting thing is, David and I had been soul searching our wedding endeavor before this happened. We’d begun a series of long talks about our quality of life and our age and if this was the right path, because the weddings were so successful that it was pushing yoga out of our lives. And we feared something very special about our life was being lost. But we were in too far financially to reconsider the choice and as we wrestled with that reality we discussed selling our beloved retreat center and moving. Perhaps Chris’s horrible campaign was in a way a gift – a painful gift to be sure, but a gift nevertheless because it realigns our path. But I will never get over the ugliness turned toward us and the smallness of his methods.

Frankly if he took one thing from me, it isn’t weddings, but my belief that people are inherently good. I’m left with an awful feeling every time I think of the lengths one person will go, and the underhanded ways a man like him will behave to get what he wants. I don’t like bullies. I especially have a distaste for short, unremarkable men who act out in a desperate need to feel powerful.

The other day one of our brides, (we found another venue to move brides to but we still help with these weddings and David marries the couples as a friend, so we have a good relationship with most of them.) said to us “We are not done with that neighbor of yours yet!” And she went on to tell me about actions she planned to take to give a little back at him. Yes, we have been inundated with people plotting revenge because we seem unwilling to do so ourselves. But in every case, while it is fun to hear them postulate about ways to take karma into their own hands and make him sorry, I leave feeling unsettled.

Life is short. Each of us has enough enemies to face in a lifetime – cancer, disease, abuse, loved ones dying or leaving, financial woes, natural disasters, war, famine, etc…. etc… We certainly don’t need to make enemies out of neighbors.