Thursday, December 24, 2015

preparations, or "is it really winter??"

We've been staving off the holidays, not feeling the spirit in this warmest of Decembers, but finally it was time to get a tree before our family came to visit!  Our requirements were that it not be taller than Ani's shoulder...

Maybe a yule bush?

Aha! This is it!

There are just some traditions that are hard to let go of...but our compromise was that it not take up floorspace, so onto the nature table it went. It is perfect.

Our family arrived on Solstice, so we made our wishbread together, filling the pan with balls of wishes for this new year.  It became Mormor's birthday breakfast cake the next morning.

The girls surprised her with decorations, and a crown when my mom, sister and I came home from a birthday lunch out.

But wait! That's not all! They had rehearsed a rendition of Happy Birthday on the bells.  Huzzah!

There is much laughing, much secretive wrapping, much game playing, and some late night moon-walks going on this week.  Yes, it is strange that the peepers were out last night, and that we had a thunderstorm because of the 70-degree weather, but we are enjoying our snowless week together, soaking up the love and the joy of being all under one roof.

reading When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

Feeling so grateful for family harmony, growing children, connections, love and joy!

Friday, December 18, 2015

the roots of my heart

Eliza just finished up the semester of dance at our local dance studio.  The people there have become family to her, and she takes such pride in her work.  She recently was invited to move up a class and that vote of confidence meant so much to her that she said ok, even though it meant dropping out of the choir we sing in together. We joined the choir because we had heard them together and Eliza was blown away by this group of women, their sound, their energy, and I thought for a minute of not continuing, now that it wasn't something we were doing together.

Then I went to another practice, and knew I was staying, at least through the year.  The director has chosen songs that pierce my heart, songs that become prayers and mantras during the days of my week.  I went to rehearsal one night feeling so dispirited from the day's news, so saddened and helpless, and we sang about it

I listen to the women...
My heart is breaking, breaking
My heart is breaking, breaking

Yes, we sing Sunny Side of the Street, but we also sing Take Heart by Ysaye Barnwell, of Sweet Honey in the Rock, mourning all of the hurts the mothers of the world are feeling, and it gives me the space to sing to the mamas in Palestine, the mamas in Syria, the mamas here who are feeling loss and grief.  

We learned a round last week that has become my winter meditation.

The roots of my heart go deep underground and entwine with the roots of your heart.

I wish I could sing it for you, because it goes deep and stays there.  It has been there when I've turned on the news, when I've tried to talk to my kids about the things that are happening in the world.  

I found myself singing this for hours as I cleaned house for my client last week, and it was a reminder that singing, meditation, and prayer do the great service of connecting us to each other.  I hear people discount prayer, and I did not grow up in a big praying culture, outside of church, so I get that discomfort, but whatever you call it, it seems to simply be about calling someone to mind and finding a way to connect to them in your heart.  

Does this sound really obvious? Because I know I can be late to the party, and it wouldn't surprise me if you all already know this, but it was a little aha moment for me, and I decided to try it out on my client.  I clean her house twice a month, and I know her to be generous, smart and reliable, but we don't see eye to eye on many many things in the world.  And we don't have to. We aren't friends, I clean her house so she can have the time, energy and freedom to prune her own trees, fix her own plumbing, manage her church's finances.  But I am a connector and I like to connect with people, so I sometimes spend my cleaning time mulling over in my head how it is that I am working for someone with some very different beliefs from mine, some fundamentally different ways of looking at things like politics and raising children, for starters. 

So I thought about her while I was singing to myself about the roots of my heart, and you know what? It worked. I sang until I felt if not love, then compassion and kindness, which are the giant steps towards full on love.  

And then I thought, hey, I should be charging more for "meditative cleaning"!! Don't you think that could be a thing? I'll clean your house and meditate on the health and well-being of your family for a few hours!  I'll eliminate your dust bunnies and the bad juju! I think I might be on to something...

Meanwhile, it is a small thing, and nowhere near enough of a response to the heavily dark actions in the world right now, but it quells the fear and the anxiety for a few moments, and that seems like a better place to begin to see a way forward.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

alpha state

According to the online medical dictionary, the brain's alpha state is the state of relaxation and peaceful awakefulness associated with prominent alpha brain wave activity.  It is what our brains do when we are meditating, making art, dancing, playing music - we all have our own ways of getting there to that zone.  It is when you are still a part of this world, senses engaged, but you are daydreaming and getting out of your head.

Alpha is the stepping stone between the beta state - where we are living in ordinary consciousness, thinking our thoughts, communicating, planning - and theta, or the subconscious, where healing happens, where your insight and intuition live.  Your gut feelings.  This is an important place for us humans to be in touch with.  It is where our knowing comes from.

This is the tiniest glimpse of a talk I heard at the herbal conference this year, and as I sat there listening, I couldn't help but think of the people I live with who daily court the alpha state.  Mind you, they don't know they are after the alpha state in particular; they haven't read the article in Psychology Today that says that increased alpha waves are good for creativity and fighting depression.  It's just where they dwell:  Dan teaches movement as a part of his work, and in particular Suzuki training, which is repetitive and rigorous and demands being in the body, not the head.  Eliza will draw for hours and is starting to really sink into her dancing, both alpha-inducing activities, but what I'm thinking about today is the way Ani can spend hours and hours of her day daydreaming, building worlds and telling stories. 

As an aside, Ani underwent some testing last summer to get to the bottom of some fainting, and one of the questions the neurologist asked us is if we ever see her daydream.  Um...yeah! It was on her official diagnosis for that office visit: fainting spells, occasional headaches, daydreams.

Ani is dead serious when I ask her what she needs to schedule into her day, and she says, "well, I have a story I'm not done telling yet and I have to get back to that".   Being interrupted to do something more "productive" or "academically-focused" is the bane of her existence. Her focus, stamina and vocabulary would astound and impress anyone if the words she is speaking were being written down. Her sister, for instance, routinely writes around 1,000 words a day when she is in the zone, and it is easy for anyone to recognize that accomplishment and give it value.  

So it is one of my challenges to recognize and value the hours - really, hours - of storytelling, building, and crafting a world that happens when Ani is in the zone.  She is unaware for the most part of the world around her, heavily suspended in another state while the story is spun.  Fostering creativity and fighting depression.  That is one smart kid.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

field trip on the poetry bus!

I've written about this fabulous addition to our town's transit system before, but a couple of Fridays ago I got to share it with the weekly poetry class the girls are a part of, as their end-of-term field trip! A double bonus was that the teacher is Wendy McVicker, the poet whose poem is featured on the bus. Swoon.  (If you are looking for a new book of poetry, please consider Wendy's recent published volume of her work, The Dancer's Notes)

I love this group of kids. The dynamic is like a passel of puppies. They laugh, cajole, hug, and chatter, but they settled down to the experience of riding inside a poem quickly, and started making their own written observations.

Wendy "found" this poetry: Emergency Exit in the spaces between hedges

We especially liked the transformative dance of the word shadows on all kinds of surfaces (including my face!).  I wondered if this was an aspect of the experience the creators could have even imagined? It was mesmerizing.

happy poet

The kids mostly jotted down things they overheard or caught a glimpse of during the ride, but I noticed a few bits of word magic made their way into the corners, to be found by future passengers. The bus is inspiring, I tell you!  Our driver was also a boon for the trip. It turns out that she never knows when she is going to get to drive the poetry bus, but that she loves it.  She also, upon learning that we were a group of homeschoolers, took it upon herself to explain the workings of the licensing system to us, in case anyone had a mind to become a bus, or semi-truck driver.  

As we rode, Wendy talked about how finding one image can help a poem grow; in the case of this poem, she shares her memories of the summer evenings of childhood, spun from the seed of pools of dusk.  

We ended this beautiful day with some visiting on the rooftop, and some Shel Silverstien read aloud by Ani, before heading inside for hot cocoa and cookies.  Hm...getting to ride a bus, read and write poetry, and have snacks? Pretty lovely.

In Summer 

we rolled down
the fresh–mown hills
into pools of dusk.
One by one, up
and down the street,
the small square houses
lit up, like ships
at sea, rocking
on the tide of night.
We swam from yard
to yard, our bodies
flickered in the spaces
between hedges, slipped
as easily as shadows
down gravel driveways.
Our eyes grew large
and luminously deep.
We knew the sound
of each one’s footsteps, the taste
of each one’s breath.
The night air
ran down our skin, smeared
with green.
We bit off blades of grass
and tongued them, sharp
whistles arcing
across the sky.
When our mothers
called us in, their voices
were like a net
cast over the night
catching us in its folds
pulling us out of the darkness—
and we came
reluctant, blinking,
opening and closing our mouths
without a sound

by Wendy McVicker