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A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary

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Say you want to write.  Say you dream of  a cabin in the woods like the one in this photo. With a little creek running through. A vegetable garden. And a writing table. No internet. No phone. A fireplace and a screened porch with a comfy bed and lots of pillows. If you looked at my Montana home, you might think my life is already pretty much like that. And if I put my house on VRBO and wrote: “Writer’s Cabin in Montana,” I would probably get some renters who are taking a break from their lives to write in just this dream I dream.

Real life houses, however, usually hold too many of our responsibilities for that kind of quiet sanctuary. There are too many plugged-in things that demand our attention. And often, too many people who need us. Bottom line for me right now: my life doesn’t lend itself to that kind of exodus. I signed up for this life and I wouldn’t wish away one drop of it. To everything there is a season, and in this season of my life I am writing three books on top of preparing my son for college, and his typical baseball rigor. Add to that the full time job of running my Haven Retreats. Enjoying a little summer in Montana on my horse and on the hiking trails would be nice too!  But how to find the time to write?

So rather than complain, or become resentful, or run myself ragged and end up flunking in every pursuit…I’ve developed a plan, and so far, it’s working. No matter what you’d do in a cabin in the woods alone this summer, regardless of what your life’s responsibilities are like…see if any of this regime could work for you in your current daily schedule (or maybe on weekends)  in the way of weaving dreams into realities, right where you are.  Some of my method might surprise you.  And what might not:  there’s a lot of writing involved. Writing grounds us, and a personal regime like this begs you to put pen to paper, and heart to words.  A personal writing retreat might just be exactly what you need, whether or not you are a writer.

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Daily: (when possible)
1) Sleep in. And I mean late. Like til 10:00. You’ll likely wake up around 7:00, but challenge yourself to stay in bed for a few more hours in a sort of wakeful trance. Eyes closed. Mindful of your breathing. Letting the thoughts come in, but not land unless they feel natural and part of the pure flow that is your true nature. Breathe into them. It’s okay if you fall asleep. You’ll probably work with those thoughts in your dream state and wake up with a clean, whole, gumption of some sort. Take this gumption and write about it. I swear, this morning meditation is where all the good ideas are.  (Of course you may have something called a “day job” or children…but at least take a day a week if at all possible, and give this morning meditation a whirl.   Consider it an essential part of your personal retreat regime.)
2) Still in bed…once those ideas come, and don’t force them, take in a deep breath, write the first line in your mind, (but not the second—trust that it will come and you’ll want to be at your writing desk when it does), grab your bathrobe, and go directly to your desk.
3) DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Not for one itty bitty second. Or God forbid, Facebook. Do not poison what must be pure, and what you have just hatched by your morning meditation.
4) Write the first line.
5) Then go make a smoothie. I have a Nutra-bullet, and I love it. I have on hand: frozen organic fruit like mango, blueberries, peaches, pineapples, coconut milk, flax seeds, fresh baby greens, and a banana. The banana makes it. It’s a green drink that tastes like heaven. Keep that one line working in you as you make your smoothie. I timed myself this morning: it took six minutes. No good idea will disappear in six minutes. You absolutely must nourish yourself.
6) With smoothie in hand, (and maybe tea or coffee as well), go back to your desk. Then give yourself two hours. At least. Two hours at your desk, writing. I repeat…do NOT go on the internet. Not for one nano-second. Even to research something for whatever it is you are writing. You do not want to end up buying boots when you are supposed to be working that meditation-hatched gumption into form!
7) Noon-ish. Now take a break. Make lunch. Sit somewhere and let go of the thoughts. Notice the world around you. Sit outside if you can. Watch birds. If your head is busy, start counting the birds you see to keep the thoughts from taking over. I’ve counted a lot of birds. Amazing what you notice when you break life down to winged things.
8) Now take a walk. This is the best way to let everything you have experienced today work through you. Something always happens when I take a walk. Allow something to happen. Maybe you come up with a new idea. Maybe you decide that what you wrote this morning is really just a warm up for something else that is more white hot inside you.
9) On your walk, if you really get cooking, try this: Interview yourself, as if you are on a national morning show like the Today Show. Ask yourself driving questions about the thing you wrote this morning. Things like: “What is your piece about?” “What’s at stake for your characters?” “What made you want to write it?” “What’s in it for the reader?” “What’s in it for you?”  Answer your questions using honed responses like you’d hear on TV. These are your talking points. Once you get them, go home as fast as you can and write them down. Or, in anticipation of this, bring along a notebook or a pad of paper. I don’t like to do that because it puts pressure on what could just be a perfectly good walk that doesn’t need to get all white hot. More of a processing walk. But mine usually run white hot. (Dirty secret: I have been interviewing myself for the Today Show since I was a little girl. That means I’ve been interviewed by Jane Pauley hundreds of times!)
10) Now return to what you wrote and read through it keeping those talking points in mind. They will be your guide in the progression of this piece, wherever it may go.
11) Or maybe you nailed it in two hours this morning and it’s ready to put on your blog, or pitch to a magazine or newspaper. But if you’re like 99.9% of the rest of us writers, you likely have more work to do. And that’s good news. Because you can control the work and just about nothing else about the writing life. With the exception of the last 10 ablutions.
NOW…plug in, do your laundry, pay your bills, go to the grocery store…
Bonus ablutions:
12) If you want to write more and you have the time, go for it! But set yourself up for completion by starting small with those two pure hours.
13) Print out what you wrote at the end of the day, draw a bath, and read it out loud to yourself with a good pen. Mark it up.
14) Start the next day the same way, only now you can meditate on the piece you started and take it further.
15) Begin by plugging in your edits from the night before and you…are…IN!
16) Have fun! In the words of Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

17) Rinse repeat…

Bleeding, then, can have a method to its madness. And creating a “room of your own” right where you live is entirely possible.

If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!

September 6-10 (FULL)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (a few spaces left)

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Letting Go of Your Stuff: the Closet Cleanse

Now booking for our 2017 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana this fall!  ***(Mention this blog post for a discount!)

September 6-10 (FULL)

September 20-24 (still room)

October 4-8 (FULL)

October 18-22 (still room)

Okay.  I’ll admit it.  I cling to things.  I’ve been working on it.  Hard.  And I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go.  Of places…and in some cases, of people.  That’s the hardest one.  I’ll leave it at that for now.  But for some reason, the stuff you’d think would be the easiest to let go of…is for me, the hardest.  And that’s:  old clothes.

Maybe it’s because they can hang in a closet, or lie in a box in an eave, unopened for years.  They don’t require attention or interaction.  And they don’t leave unless I make them leave.  Maybe I keep the small stuff in my life because when I’m lying in bed working with letting go of the big stuff, I can at least believe in the lie that those silly things in those closets and boxes are still there to save me a little…should I really need it…one difficult day.  Like today.

Because what does a full closet of old clothes mean?  Resourcefulness?  Gratitude?  Personal history?  And what would an empty closet, an empty box, say about my life?  Who would I be without the proof of an old wardrobe of the people I’ve been on this planet?  Would I be such an empty shell?

Of course not.  And I know damn well what fills a human soul.  It ain’t clothes, that’s for sure.  I know this.  And yet…I mean my Guess skinny jeans from the 80s?  My Police Synchronicity tour sleeveless T-shirt?  Jeez.  Get over it, girlfriend.  Sure, a baptism gown or a wedding dress—that’s one thing.  (And let’s not even get into the clothes I kept from my father’s drawers and closets after he died.  I can’t even unpack those suitcases.  That requires nerve I just…don’t…have yet.)  But my wrap-around corduroy skirt with the emerald green whales on it?  My old argyle knee socks?  Come on.clothesdrive_imgerotat

I respect those people who go through their closets every season, and are honest with themselves.  Haven’t worn that in two months.  Too fat for that.  Too skinny for that (like that ever happens, but I’m just saying…it could).  Sayonara.

I’m the child of Depression era parents.  I think in terms of darned socks and three minute phone calls.  I think of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors that her mama gave to her.  Made up of the fabric of old clothes.  The fabric of old life.  When I’m giving myself a break for such hoarderly qualities, I say:  it’s because I love story.  Those clothes, that fabric– the stories they could tell.  But isn’t my brain the ultimate container for those stories?  And my journals?  And the people I love who lived through those times too?  So why do I need a Laura Ashley dress circa 1980?  My old Frye boots, the first time they were in vogue—70s style.  My kilts and Fair Isle sweaters from my impossibly preppy days.  My wedding shoes that no longer fit me because somehow my feet and ears are still growing, just like they say of old men.  My hippie skirts and even that tweed Ann Taylor suit with the shoulder pads and big wool covered buttons that I wore to all my temp jobs while I was writing my first novel in Boston.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And let’s remember that these aren’t just old clothes hanging in my childhood bedroom in a suburb of Chicago.  My parents got rid of their home of 45 years long ago.  No, I opted to pack these items into boxes.  I opted to have them shipped to Montana.  To not just one house, but to the next house we moved into—this one.  I have worked hard to preserve this legacy of old beloved materialistic crap.

Yesterday, a kind voice, not prone to bullying as I’ve procured the voices in my head to be now in my 50s, told me:  Laura, it’s time.

I dreaded it.  It took all day and a string of daytime talk shows all the way through Martha, who would probably do something industrious with all that fabric, like line bulletin boards or sew wine gift bags, or make chicken coop cozies…but let’s face it, I don’t sew.  I use duct tape when I rip a hem.

But I did it.  And you know what?  It was easy.

I guess if you hang on to something long enough, and it haunts you enough, and it’s benign enough…it loses its luster.  My grandmother’s silver and china are still shiny, for instance.  No haunt there.  But yesterday, it was like I was exfoliating my brain.  Opening up space in my house (and the house of my brain) that was full of grumpy ghosts who wanted out.  To move on and torture some other woman reckoning with the loss of her maidenhood, in some other bedroom in America.  They flew out of here so fast, they didn’t even stir the dust they’d been stashed in for so many years.  Didn’t even say goodbye.  And why would they?  They have been dormant—lording over fickle charms; thin talismen.  Ghosts don’t like to be dormant.  They like megaphones and chains.  I’ve left those for the other ghosts of the Big Stuff.  These ghosts were so outta here.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And what I was left with was a pile of clothes and dust and the remains of long dead flies and stink bugs.  Clothes I’d once beheld lovingly and thought—Oh, my daughter might want that pair of vintage riding breeches some day—we’ll get the leatherwork re-done, and the elastic too.  Or, my grandmother’s ultra suede suit might come in handy if there’s ever a dress-like-Barbara Bush Day in my imminent future—suddenly lay limp and dethroned on my bedroom rug.  And I wanted them out of there.

So I fetched five lawn bags, and shoved it all in.  Dragged them outside, and launched them in to the back of the old Ford pick-up to take to the Salvation Army.

For a flicker of a moment I thought, with a lunatic’s altruism and over-blinking eyes, “Well somebody in rural Montana is surely going to feel lucky to stumble upon such finery.”  After all, I’m the one who remembers walking through the streets of Chicago once, seeing a homeless person wearing the exact same bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn in a recent wedding and thinking how lovely it must be to wear a gown of peau de soie silk whilst rummaging through  garbage for soda cans—but also thinking how rude and unromantic and socially irresponsible even not to at least have the decency to keep the dread thing hanging in a closet somewhere.  To promise to wear again with those same over-blinking eyes.  Of course I was that girl.  I bet whichever of the other six women who got real and ditched that dress at the local Goodwill doesn’t have a pick-up full of clothes sitting in bags from the last 30 years of her life.  I bet she has a very dust-free brain.  As a rule.  Never mind her closet.

clothesdrive_imgerotatAnd then I laugh-snorted and got over myself.  Was I kidding myself?  No one with any level of dignity whatsoever would find any of this stuff wearable in 2017.  Sometimes one person’s trash is NOT another person’s treasure.  But then again, if I see someone walking down the street in a patchwork coat, made up of the fabrics of my life, I decided right then…I’d be pleased.  Because one thing seemed true in that grey on rust on plastic on textile moment:  one person’s clinging could certainly be made into another person’s winter coat.  That was for sure.  Fancy could indeed become function.

In a month, ask me if I can remember the clothes I gave away for adoption yesterday.  In a month, ask me if I care.

So many little stitches in freedom.

 

 

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What to say when someone dies

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Featured in Huffington Post and Thrive Global

Now booking for our 2017 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met!  Come find your voice in the woods of Montana this fall!  ***(Mention this blog post for a discount!)

September 6-10 (FULL)

September 20-24 (still room)

October 4-8 (FULL)

October 18-22 (still room)

No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

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Roll Call– What’s in a Name

botticelli_birth_venus_2In preparation for a writer’s lockdown for the next month, I’m reading some of my early Montana musings and learning from myself. This woman was being schooled by her need to see things from the inside out, coming into her intuition. Pour a cup of tea, take a quiet moment, and see if you remember this time in your life.  Maybe it’s right now…

The naming of things. I’ve never been very good at it. Seems so formal. Restrictive.
Babies don’t enter this world with the need to name everything in it. In their estimation, the world is not made up of nouns that must be pointed at; possessed. The world is merely an extension of their little selves, still more soul than flesh. The naming of things, then, becomes a social convenience. But every baby knows that it is not a matter of survival. We forget that, I think, once we discover that our index fingers have power.

It was the Renaissance that brought me around. I was living for a year in Florence, Italy as a student of Art History. The naming of names was not just a practice reserved for museums and classrooms in that boisterous city. Florence sang with names in a full crescendo Verdi. In the dome of the Duomo…Michelangelo… Brunelleschi… the bronzed doors of the Baptistry…Ghiberti…in the cornflower and squash blossom porcelain Madonnas and cherubini in vertical rounds throughout the city…Della Robbia…in the stone walls of the countryside…Etruscans…fig picking in the hills of Chianti…Gallileo… the great Palazzo Medici keeping watch, the spirit of Dante burning for a woman in a small church, the quiet river Arno reminding the Florentines that it can rise and destroy even a Leonardo, but not his name. The names that made their city great are in the hearts and mouths of every Florentine—child, teenager, middle-aged and old; you cannot get through a dinner without being reminded of the Renaissance and the events that led up to it.
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After a while, the novelty of hearing a place in fortissimo twenty-four-seven, became jaded– sinister almost. It was what I imagine the early stages of madness to sound like: a roll call in my mind’s ear– Machiavelli, Raphael, Tiziano, Donatello, Giotto, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca… A simple walk through the city became deafening: San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, Santa Trinita`, Orsanmichele, San Marco, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito—with always this maniac coloratura: Michelangelo…Michelangelo. One foot into the Uffizi museum and the brain throbbed with it. Like a horror film shooting from every angle—there: the famous angel playing the lute up in a corner almost lost in the red dark velvet. There: the reds and blues of Raphael…there: the fair pinks and periwinkles of Fra Angelico…there: the structure and hulk of the Michelangelos, the red crayon of the de Vincis pulsing three dimensional on a sheet of paper. And always those eyes of the Botticelli divas.
There was no relief, no sanctuary. How could I sit in a café drinking espresso when The David was within walking distance? How many times should a girl spending a year in Florence visit the David before she really knows the David? Once a day? Twice a week. Twice a day? And what about the Slaves? Don’t forget them in their eternal half-emergence from their Carraran marble tombs. What about the unending palazzos, piazzas, chiesas, ponte? The tapestries and frescoes, the nunneries and the catacombs, and the gardens—the gardens? Every moment of looking down was a promise of missing the name that would surely be there should I look up.
But what about the tomatoes? The long stemmed artichokes and blood oranges, the walnuts and purple figs and hot chocolate so thick it hangs at the end of your spoon? What about the little forgotten churches, cold and wet, with a quartet practicing Vivaldi in the apse?
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One day, I folded under the aural heft of it. I turned from the gallery of the Uffizi I had been skimming, and I ran—past Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Michelangelos’ Holy Family, Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino– past postcard vendors and character artists’ easels—past whizzing Vespas and women walking arm in arm– down to the Arno, where in a full sweat, I vomited. And I watched the voices drown in the steady slow stink until they were gone.
“You’re one of the lucky dozen,” said an old Italian man pointing at me with his cane as if he had been sent from the Renaissance to rub salt in my country’s artistic wound.
“Scusi?” I said.
“Il Stendhalismo. Stendhal’s Disease. Dizzy in the head and the stomach from all the art of Firenze. At least a dozen tourists get it every year.”
“But I live here,” I managed to say in my borderline Italian.
He smiled and shrugged and walked off as quickly as he had appeared.
I made a pact then. I would leave one museum unseen. Unheard. Its faces un-named. The other famous Florentine museum: The Bargello. I would save it. And instead, I would go slowly through the halls of the Uffizi for one year until the voices simmered to a whisper, or better, became woven into my heartbeat like a monk’s prayer.
It worked. Months later, I made my usual pass along the wall which holds the Birth of Venus, and stopped dead center. Not because I wanted to name her, but because I needed to forget a lost love– stare at something so beautiful, it would flush the hurt away. I stared into her wise eyes and her figure started to tunnel out of the painting toward me with a promise: she would clean away my heartbreak if I would not close my eyes. So I stood there, my eyes fixed on hers until they stung, museum patrons coming and going, reading the plaque beside her, saying the word Botticelli and leaving, and I stayed until there were sea-cleaned tears falling down my cheeks. Now, when I look into the eyes of the Venus on the half shell, I do not need to say Botticelli in order to believe in her perfect flaxen place in land, sea and sky.
I spent my last day in Florence making a café latte last four hours in my favorite outdoor café, around the corner from the Uffizi, one piazza away from the Bargello. I needed to return to the States with the taste of espresso in my mouth and the stink of the Arno in my nose and the perfume of squashed tomatoes fallen from street vendors, the sound of the horses’ hoofs and high-heeled shoes on the cobblestones. I did not hear Puccini or Verdi, not even in a pianissimo.
Instead, I overheard some tourists talking on the street corner, clad in money belts and brand new Nike sneakers. “Yeah, it’s been an awesome two weeks,” one said to the other similarly vested American, introducing herself. “First we did Paris, and then we did Madrid, then we did Milan, today and tomorrow we’re doing Florence, and then we’re doing Rome for a few days and flying back.”
That sealed it. I did not do Florence. I learned that year that a place cannot be done. Whether you have one minute in it, or an entire lifetime. The ultimate difference between doing a place and being in a place, I suppose, has to do with an openness, but too, the privilege of time. I will never know Florence like the Florentines do. But I understand the place past the name. And I understand that a name is just a name perhaps, until you have sat for many hours, and sipped a cup of coffee knowing it is there, around the corner. Having surrendered a lover in its midst. Trusting that it can clean you the next time you look it in the eye.
pine_cone

***
It took three years of living in Montana before it dawned on me that all cone-bearing trees are not called Pine trees. It took me five years of living in Montana before I could see that the structure of the distant hills was different from hill to hill. Six, before I could see what the hills were made of. Seven before I would stop and stare at a Hemlock and wonder why there were not, then, Cedars or Subalpine Fir dwelling nearby. Eight before I could tell when the Larch were just about to go as flaxen as the Botticelli Venus, before they went bare and asleep. And I got stuck there at eight for a while because I decided it was time for field guides and the naming of names—and suddenly my pack became heavy with books on wildflowers, trees, scat and track identification, and binoculars, and my walks in the woods were half spent with my nose in a topographical map. Suddenly my walks in the woods were like my early walks through the galleries of the Uffizi, with a running commentary of names: Fir, Larch, Subalpine Fir, Grand Fir, Cedar, Hemlock, Lodgepole, Ponderosa. And I was not seeing the forest anymore.
So I backed off. Lost the field guides and maps. Started riding horses and not carrying anything but a bottle of water and a piece of fruit. I cantered through the woods so that the trees were in constant blur, hoping that with my new vantage point, I might not see a Larch and think: Larch. And that brought me through to nine. My ninth year. Now. Today. When the forest started to sing.
I was sitting at a glacial lake, ten or so miles from home, not remembering that it was late September and that the ten o’clock sunsets are a thing of summer past. I had come to the woods not in the pursuit of trees, and not to forget a lost love, but to forget a potential one.
My husband announced that morning that he wanted to be scientifically done with our life “as breeders.” No more kids. I heard bits and pieces of it—one of each…enough for both sets of arms…we fit just right in a canoe…airplanes trips still affordable…college tuition possibly manageable if we start saving now…no shared bedrooms…we can take that trip back to Italy you’ve been talking about since I met you—show the kids all those paintings you love so much.
“I’m done,” he said. I heard that loud and clear. He wanted to know that I was okay with that.
pine_cone

So I lost light tonight at the lake, thinking about the fact that we humans have one miracle left that we can at least court, if not perform. An outward and visible sign, I think the Sunday school quote goes. Still, left up to Mystery, but perhaps, if all goes well, possible. One last stroke at genius—one last connection to the Creator. One last place of true breathlessness. Surrender.
And he wanted to cut off that line to Divinity in a matter of a few minutes in a fluorescent-lit doctor’s office, all for a small fee. “I think insurance pays for most of it,” he said.
I lost light watching the last of the bug hatches, and the fish rising and the clouds going crimson, breathing shallow little strikes at feeling okay about the last of my motherhood. No more would my belly swell with life kicking and swimming inside me like that mountain lake. I tried to force a cavalier alliance to population control. But it seemed all wrong, no matter how I tried to wrap my mind around it.
And then it didn’t matter, because it was dark. And I was far from home. And I wasn’t sure I knew my way. I’d always heard that horses did, but there were steep cliffs my horse was willing to go down in the dark that I wasn’t, and so I needed to be her guide. And I didn’t feel like I could be anyone’s guide just then.
I mounted and, loose-reined, she led me to the trail. The moon was a thin crescent—not much for lighting paths through thick stands of Fir and Larch. I turned her one way and she hesitated, ever-loyal, and I made my mind blank. Putting take me home…make my decision for me…into a parcel of intention she might be able to translate; horses are the most intuitive animals I have ever shared dark or light with. She stepped forward and I went with her into the dark woods. And I went like that for what seemed like miles and miles, not being able to see the trail, not really caring all that much, mourning my unborn children, trusting.
pine_cone
And then I thought about the Venus. How she asked me to stare into her, believe in her until my eyes stung with her cleansing power. I let out a sigh then. And my horse stopped. We were at an old granddaddy of a Douglas Fir that I recognized; it was the one that stood alone in the clear-cut, like some logger had just been too taken by it to cut it down. My horse was still; dormant. I looked up into its branches; they were full and architectural. Second growth. Maybe third. But statuesque and mighty in a way trees aren’t allowed to be around here much anymore.
I let my head fall back against my shoulders and sighed and let my breath rise up into its branches the way I had let the Venus pull out of her painting. And I held and it stung, only not in my eyes, but in my ears this time. And I did not say, Douglas Fir. I said, “Thank you.”
And we went then, through the next few undulations of forest until we were climbing the steep hill home. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it for all its silence. And I could smell it, for all its running sap. Rotting stumps. Dusty bottom.
I leaned forward on my mare’s neck, holding her mane. And we crested the ridge. Then back I leaned, holding firm with my knees, letting my hips go loose in her rhythm. Hearing the scuttle of scrim and glacial tilth, grinding under-hoof. The rustling of scrubby brush and nocturnal beasts, not the sort to trust daylight at all.
On the flat ground, we cantered. I held on to her mane, breathless in the dark. And I did the reverse. I closed my eyes.
I felt it: clean.
And the forest sang us home.

To plug into your intuition through the power of words and Montana…come to a Haven Writing Retreat this Fall 2017

September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22

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The Color of Wonder: Stop Expecting. Start Receiving.

loveI remember the first time it happened.  I was five and we were at Disneyworld and there it was:  Cinderella’s castle, right in front of me! The towering glistening lavender place where dreams were made.  I broke free from my parents’ hands, and I ran into what was sure to be the most enchanted, world of wonder ever!  The Magic Kingdom was going to deliver me my first slice of real magic.  But wait!  What’s this tunnel?  I’m on the other side of the castle!  Where are the crystal chandeliers and the marble ballrooms and the gold ceilings and the mice-turned-coachmen?  The whole thing was a Disney-spun ruse!  If castles were fake, then maybe princesses were too.  But what about dreams?  Was Jiminy Cricket full of it?

The next time it happened was in New York City.  Broadway!  I was ten and my parents were taking me to Annie.  I’d memorized every word of it.  Annie was a dreamer.  She believed in infinite possibility– that she…she was special enough to have all her dreams come true.  Seeing her live would mean that I could believe that too.  And the voice of those dreams:  Andrea McCardle.  She was my hero.  I was going to be Annie one day.  Somehow.  I wanted to be the deliverer of that supreme message.  Andrea had a cold that day.  Understudy.  But I did see Patti Lupone in Evita.  I didn’t cry for Argentina.  I was too young to get it.  I wanted to dream about Tomorrow with a raspy redhead.  But more and more, dreaming seemed like a gamble.  And judging by the bit parts I got in the community theater shows, maybe being a Broadway actress wasn’t quite it.

Then in 1983, I went to see the movie Flashdance.  That angsty dancer in leg-warmers was me!  (Proverbially speaking– pigeon-toed kids with scoliosis probably wouldn’t have flash-dancing in their future.)  But the rest of it?  Yes, please!  I would live in a loft like that and do whatever it took, weld even, to go after my dream.  So what if dreaming was a gamble?  It was worth it.  I just wasn’t sure yet what dream I should dream, and I knew that I had better figure it out fast.  When these words came, they slayed me:  “If you lose your dream, you’re dead.”  Not me.  That wasn’t going to happen.  Whatever it was, I was going to dream a big one, even if the castles were fake and heroes got colds and you had to live in Pittsburgh.  I was not going to die that death.  But if not acting…then what?  I started to dig deeply into spirituality.  Seemed that the Divine would have some answers.

In 1987, I took trains through a Yugoslavia on the brink of revolution, to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  I was obsessed with ceramic tiles and I was told that exact color blue existed nowhere but there…and that it was one of the most sacred, inspiring places on earth.  I ascended those steps, ready to cover my head and slip off my shoes to behold this ancient sacred blue and yes, dreamy, place.  The mosque was closed.  Renovation.  We didn’t have the internet so who knew anything prior to anything back then?  I was crushed.  Was I looking in all the wrong places?  I spent the afternoon sitting on the ground next to the mosque, writing in my journal, and what came out appeared a lot like what you’d find in the pages of a novel about a young woman with undreamed dreams.  I looked up into the minarets, not unlike Cinderella’s castle, and thought:  Maybe I could write books.  Yes.  Books.  I’d found it.  And it wasn’t blue or red.  It was the color of Wonder in the written word.

The same year, I went to the Sistine Chapel to see the Creation of Adam.  I wanted to see what God’s finger looked like when He pointed to humanity and breathed it to life, still more soul than flesh.  That surely must be what it took to be a writer—on both sides of those fingers– the constant act of co-creating with the Divine.  That’s what I would spend my life trying to accomplish.  I would wander in this wonder, and I would use words to do it.  There it was again:  ristrutturazione.  Renovation.  Scaffolding.  Over one panel.  That one.  But I bought a postcard of God’s finger almost touching Adam’s.  Still have it.  It lives under my keyboard, where I write.  It’s getting a little ratty, but it still breathes life into my muse, I like to think.

Skip ahead a few more years, and along came the children.  I did everything I could to pass this wonder gene to them, in whatever form I could.  Disney had failed me, so I figured nature was a good place to start.  Our life in Montana served up wonder over and over and they received it, so we took it on the road.  We went camping in Patagonia, Arizona, to see the Elegant Trogon bird.  Each of us with our day packs and binoculars, and me with my Sibleys, we stalked through the forests slowly, all day.  Saw a lot of people looking for the Elegant Trogon bird.  But no Elegant Trogons.  The next year, we went to Belize to see Howler monkeys, looked up at breakfast and there were eight Elegant Trogons perched in the tree above us.  We didn’t see Howler monkeys.  But we heard them.  Family joke goes:   If you want birds, look for monkeys.  Works every time.  My kids were well on their wonder-ful way.  They knew that the expectation wasn’t the end game.  The wonder was.

But when it came to the girl at the Blue Mosque, things were getting dire.  She hadn’t had the kind of publishing success she’d coveted.  In short, she’d sung a lot of Tomorrows, and had learned all about crying for her inner Argentina.  Book after book.  Rejection after rejection.  And the postcard wasn’t working.  My muse was under renovation.  I was losing steam.  My dreams hurt, deeply, and wonder hurt worse:  Should I just give up?  Weren’t dreamers owed anything?  Were there not only no promises, but were dreams actually bad for us?  Did dreams need to die after all?  I wanted them to live!  I wanted to sing my song on the page and have it land in hearts and yes…take my bow!  Was Flashdance just another ruse?  In short, I was bereft.  But there was one moment when I felt that finger pointing at me, saying No.  Never.  Not you.6e5bfbb430043970037181278e86c52a

It was that same year in Belize, and I was in a little art gallery on Ambergris Key.  I walked around that art gallery thinking, Maybe I need a new image to put under my keyboard.  And then I looked down.  There was a print of what looked like a marble Greek goddess with wings, holding her skirts apart, revealing the words Breathe.  Believe.  Receive.  It’s all happening.  I bought the print.  Hung it on my wall by my bed, this time, so I could see it in plain light.  I looked at it every morning and every night for years, and I spoke those words aloud.  And I kept writing books.  I breathed.  I believed.  I received.  I received the joy of creating and let go of where my writing landed.  I received the breath and breathed it back and deemed that the ultimate life:  doing the work.  That was all I could control.  Whatever this “it” was that was “happening”…was a mystery, and the part I could understand was the part where I sat down and wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  But this time…surrendered.

And then…”it” all happened.  Five years later, that girl who wanted to be Annie, got her version of “it.”  But the “it” was very different than it was all those years ago.  The “it” was what I brought to my writing desk every day, even though now the publishing world brought that “it” to the hearts and minds of people around the world.  And for that “it” I will be eternally grateful.  But even if they hadn’t…I still have my “it.”  My dream is in the doing. That’s the color of wonder I paint with every day, and that’s what breathes my muse alive.

Just don’t tell that girl sitting at the Blue Mosque how long it will take.  Or she might stop.  But do tell her that she would have made a terrible Annie.  Some dreams are better left as just that.

Do you want to wander in your wonder with words?  I am now booking my fall 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Come to Montana and receive…

September 6-10 (still room)
September 20-24 (a few spaces left)
October 4-8 (FULL)
October 18-22 (still room)

 

 

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My Perfect June Day in Whitefish, Montana

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

As seen on Explore Whitefish!

June is heavenly here in Whitefish, Montana with all the birds nesting and singing their territorial symphony, the snow melting off the mountains, the rivers in full rush, the days warm, and the nights still cool.  I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I know this season for the embarrassment of riches that it is!  June also begins my summer Haven Writing Retreat season, so my idea of a perfect day is to ground myself in Montana’s splendor, as I prepare to welcome the 20 brave seekers who come from around the globe to be inspired, write, and find their voice through the written word, whether or not they consider themselves writers. Many of them stay and enjoy the area, including, of course, Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, using Whitefish as their home away from home.  I’ve seen Montana, and Haven, change their lives over and over again, and I love sharing the container for my muse with them!  But first…a personal retreat day in paradise.  Where to begin…

  • An early morning ride on my old Morgan with my horse guru, Bobbi Hall of Stillwater Horse Whispers Ranch (who leads the Equine Assisted Learning at my Haven Writing Retreats), to meet our dear friend, Ky, from Great Northern Powder Guides, in the woods. Ride to Murray Lake on The Whitefish Trail, catch up as busy kindred sisters must, and listen for nesting loons. Maybe a morning dip in the lake while the horses graze.
  • Go home, unsaddle, grab the kids, and forage for morels near riverbeds and in forest fire burns.  (Exact location…up over Never Tell ‘Em Ridge…  Same with huckleberries in August…)
  • Be captivated by the little magenta heads of the Calypso orchids (Fairy Slippers) popping up through the woodland forest bottom while we picnic.Image-1
  • Pick arnica blossoms to make into salve for aches and bruises from a hearty Montana lifestyle!  (Combine with local Montana beeswax from Third Street Market, and give as gifts all year!)
  • Drive home past the golden fields of canola in bloom.
  • Hop in a kayak on Whitefish Lake and paddle, or if I want wind in my hair, rent a ski boat or pontoon boat at the marina at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.  Celebrate the fact that The Whitefish Trail is now almost a full loop around the lake—a dream that came true!  Nice job, Whitefish Legacy Partners!  (Click here to help close the loop!)
  • Stop by the Farmer’s Market and see the spirit of the town in full bloom, with fabulous food trucks, like INDAH Sushi (restaurant opening in Whitefish soon!!!  One of the owners, Stacey, is a Haven Writing Retreat alum!)  Listen to live local musicians, and pick up veggies and herbs from local farms, like Purple Frog Gardens, and Terrapin Farms.  Pick up some Morning Buns from the Finn Biscuit!  Wander through all the great vending booths.  Remember why I love this town and its people so much.
  • Stop by Tupelo Grill for a craft cocktail (the Sazerac and Now or Never are my favs), and their sinful bacon-wrapped chevre dates.
  • Be overwhelmed by all of the amazing restaurant choices there are in Whitefish, realize I’m filthy from the day’s activities, and instead…
  • Go home to grill Montana steaks and (hopefully) sautéed morels for dinner on the patio with old friends and family.  Sip on Domaine Tempier rose, inspired by years of reading my favorite, and longtime Montanan, writer, Jim Harrison.  (I hope there’s DT wherever you are, Jim!)
  • Relax at dusk and listen to the birds singing their nighttime Taps, with members of the Flathead Audubon society on my screened porch, telling me who’s who in this magnificent symphony.IMG_3786
  • End the day journaling about this incredible place on earth in preparation to welcome the next group of brave seekers who are giving themselves the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat at the beautiful Walking Lightly Ranch!
  • Drift off to sleep, watching an endless sky of meteor showers from my bedroom window.
  • Dream of tomorrow:  a hike in Glacier National Park, ending at the Northern Lights Saloon up in Polebridge for dinner and chats with fellow wanderers, proud to call myself a Montanan!

Montana= Heaven’s Haven on Earth.  Enjoy!

For more information about my writing and Haven Writing Retreats, or to sign up for my blog and newsletter, click here!  

Now booking our September and October Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana:

June 7-11 (FULL)

June 21-25 (1 spot left)

September 6-10

September 20-24

October 18-22

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Tips on Creature Comforts from my Facebook Posse! (Beds, Bras, Skin-care, and much more…)

olive grove-001It seems I’ve tapped into some serious zeitgeist over on Facebook in the last months, as I’ve been exploring some of my creature comfort needs…and it’s turned into some mighty social media crowd sourcing!  Thank you to all of you who have given me your tips on things like, you know, bras.  And skin care products.  And beds.  And tea.  And happy songs.  And a lot of other things too.

It all started with these words:  ”Help!  My face has fallen and it can’t get up!”  That got 97 comments in about half an hour.  Then: (heck– why not)  ”Help!  My boobs have fallen and they can’t get up!”  64 comments, rapido rapido.  Beds:  75 great tips, and fast.  The ultimate Earl Grey?  Lots of Earl drinkers out there, turns out.  Even names for a strong female protagonist (213 comments).  In fact, my Facebook friends have helped me so much, that I thought it would be helpful to create a list of some of their best tips, with some of the comments, here on my blog.  So here you go.   I haven’t tried 99.9% of any of them yet.   Still sleeping in a 15 year old squeaky bed, using water on my face, period, and am helplessly devoted to a few old jog bras.  But looks like that all might change!

Creature comfort wisdom from my Facebook friends. 

SKIN LINES

Beauty Counter  (started by a friend of mine!)

From the Lab  (started by a friend of mine!)

La Mer – “pricey but worth it”

Coconut Oil – “eat it too!”

Indian Meadows Herbals – Love your Face Cream “Love Your Face Cream – Original Formula. It’s fabulous. I like all of their products. It’s made with 76% organic herbs, oils, and aloe. I use it every day, and I’m 57. If only they’d invent something that works for under-eye circles!”

Dermalogica – “ used Dermalogica for 25 years. Night repair creams, oils, and masks are important now, especially in MT. Above all drink an insane amount of water to keep your brain and skin hydrated.”

Rodan + Fields – “#1 anti aging skin line in America and I’ll give you the “author” discount”

Amlactin – “You can purchase it over the counter in any pharmacy. It’s an alpha hydroxy lotion. That combined with Retin A – which you need a prescription for. I use Retin A every night and Amlactin twice a day. But be careful using Amlactin till your skin adjusts to the Retin A because it can sting when your skin is fragile. Takes time to adjust to Retin A. Go super sparingly in the beginning! This is the regimen recommended by my deem. I think it has helped my skin!”

Tata Harper

Cetaphil – “Recommended by my dermatologist. Followed by some Paula’s Choice products.”

Paula’s Choice

Oil of Olay

Nerium AD

Kiels – “no more expensive products”

Roc Moisturizer

Arbonne – “Arbonne is by far the best. I am 64 and have been using it for 7 years. Seriously, Laura, it’s good stuff. I just got back from a Convention and they reformulated the RE9 line and it is super clean and nontoxic…..I can give you some samples when I get to town.”  “Loveeeee anti aging line, pure ingredients, safe, green, just as beneficial as the number one skincare line but has safe ingredients!!”

Mary Kay – “You wouldn’t believe how forward thinking the company is now and it exceeds European Union standards as far as cosmetic companies go.”

Dr. Hauschka

Boots UK

No. 7

Image Skin Care –  https://www.imageskincare.com/ “I am not fifty, but I do love the changes I’ve noticed in my skin since using their ageless and lightening lines (tighter, brighter, less fine lines) and am all about preventative care. Raw honey makes a fantastic face cleanser.”

Zillis Zen Renew – “It’s got Botox effects without the Botox. Ladies are going crazy over it”

Elta MD Sunscreen –  It’s medical grade , affordable, and has no nasty parabans, etc. Aside from that, I use botox and Instagram filters.” “I agree, I use their tinted sunscreen”

Shisedodo

Beauty Counter

Plexus

Synchronology Skincare – rocks and is reasonably priced

Clarins

Rosehip and Baobab oil – “as a moisturizer.  Also Emu oil if that’s up your alley.”

Ponds Night Cream – “ My grandmother swore by ponds night cream under the eyes every night. I am sticking to it! Plus, the smell is soooo nice.”

Cerave - “ especially if you have sensitive skin. Dermatologist recommended this years ago.”

Botox

Skin Medica TNS – from a derm nurse

My Prime Transformative Cream –  It is a little $$ but worth it. I also love

YBF Correct eye cream – “but this one’s too $$ for me, so I don’t use it any more.”

Kar Gran Cosmetics –  I wrote an essay for them because I love their clean, aromatic oils: https://blog.karigran.com/wearyourselfin/new-test-article/

RoC

Envrion – “it’s amazing”

Beyond good lotions & potions, get good consistent sleep, hydration (H20) and avoid salt and alcohol as much as you can stand and still ‘live a little.’ Plus Retin A. And exercise to get the blood flowing.

Neutrogena - “works well with all skin types”

Grace green Beauty –  https://gracegreenbeauty.com/

Loccitane Immortelle Divine Cream

Salt water rines (made with sea salt and bottled water. Use coconut oil as moisturizer

Chanel Sublimage – Cleanser, Serum, Eye Cream Moisturizer – “the best”

Willing Beauty –  “just launched this month its a sister company of origami owl, I have been using a week and it’s AMAZING “

Lancome Renergie – at Costco online

Differin – “which basically Retin A started out as — is a prescription strength form of retinol sold over the counter. My dermatologist made me start after I had some burn related discoloration on face. But it is a miracle worker on fine lines and such. I use one week on one week off.” “ Differin is $13 at Target recommended by my dermatologist instead of Retin A.”

Olay Regenerist

Orgins Drink up Intensive Overnight mask – “use it all winter”

Skinceuticals

Laurel Whole Plant Organics – “100% natural”

Murad – “scents aren’t overhwleming and they dont’ engage in animal testing”

And this one made me LOL.  I’ve never done Botox, or a Medical Peel, but this person has a lot to say about it, and she’s funny!

Medical Grade Chemical Peel - “ I don’t believe in spending $80 on a jar of cream when you can spend $80 once a month for a medical grade chemical peel at a medspa. In the city, you can get Botox for $4.50 a unit on Groupon and for 30 units, not have a wrinkle for the next 4 months. I tell my aesthetician that I want to look young but still be able to shoot a look across the room to my son that says, “Knock that shit off right now.” She somehow nails it every time. I have total movement. Yes, I think doing a peel four weeks apart makes so much difference! I do them for four months in a row and then bask in the glory of nothing for six months and then start them again. Also, my partner is an anesthesiologist and he just did one treatment with an in office thing called a skinpen and his colleagues all said he looked 15 years younger. I am going to try that next. It’s around $125 for one treatment and he had one six months ago but is about to have another one now before his daughters grad school graduation.

Here’s the thing about chemical peels – for the first one, if you had a loaded gun in your hand you’d shoot yourself because you just can’t believe it’s okay and that the pain will actually stop. It does stop. Five minutes in. The second time you have it is much better. The first one is just really nasty because you have so much old skin to burn off until you get to the dermis. The third time, I could be emailing colleagues it’s so easy. Like Botox, the more you do it, the more it starts PREVENTING damage. Mostly because you always have fresh, new, glowing skin. But if you have dark sun spots, like my partner, then you’d be amazed at the skin pen in between a chemical peel. For me, I had an issue with old red healed acne spots. They disappeared the very first peel. It’s really incredible witchcraft. Oh – also, if you are considering derma fillers, I can update you. The old issue of lip injections, etc. is that it used collagen. Now, it uses a type of ingredient that already is in our skin and our body removes naturally over the course of six months or so. But here’s the witchcraft – if you don’t like it, there is now an antidote! So they inject the counter to it and it dissolves right then! It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come. Because of this, I’m considering fillers now. But they do fillers and chemical peels on hands now that swear makes an 80 year old look 20. You can google before and after images online of restalyne hands and be amazed. In the US, it is illegal for a pharmaceutical company to use before and after pictures without indicating how many treatments they have received. With restalyne, it never says because it’s only ONE TREATMENT! AMAZEBALLS!”

 OK…now on to my next one, “Help, my boobs have fallen and they can’t get up!”  Such great “support” from my friends!

BRAS:

Wacoal – “game changer, underwire or not” https://www.wacoal-america.com/all-bras_wacoal-bras-catalog/

Rosa Faia – “very pricey but a game changer. So comfortable” http://www.anita.com/shop/en_global/soft-bra-serie-twin-24ebd5.html

Chantelle - http://www.chantelle.com

Soma Intimates – “enhancing shape bras!” “love soma”

Madewell “comfy t-shirt material bras”

Coobies – “very comfortable and seamless. Sometimes i sleep with them on.” “Very comfortable but not a whole lot of support. But they don’t feel like you’re wearing a torture device”

Sage and Cedar, Whitefish, MT (store)

Target’s Champion line “great lift andshaping. And non underwire.”

Underarmour – “good underwire”

Adore Mr. – “well made and inexpensive”

Third Love

Olga and Warners

Knix Wear - https://www.knixwear.com/collections/evolution-bra

Soma

The Pact – “camisole with built-in bra.”

Tommy Hilfiger

Title Nine/Anita Sports Bra – “wear it all the time for everything. Soft and uplifting, but no under wire. If you are a booby girl, but narrow set in the chest (not too to broad in chest measure but larger in cup size) this may work very well.”

And here’s where people created our own personal consumer report!

14656327_10153757139241266_4563344988189324412_nMATTRESSES

Temper Cloud Supreme Mattresshttp://www.oprah.com/gift/Tempur-Cloud-Supreme-Mattress?editors_pick_id=27470   “I bought the one Oprah recommended a few years ago and it was terrible. I think it actually got pulled from the market it was so bad and we got our money back. It was the Dr. Breus mattress and it was THE WORST! it completely caved in in the middle.”

Tempurpedic Cloud with Supreme Breeze for cooling. “ Got the adjustable frame even though we didn’t think we were interested. Don’t regret a thing!” “Tempurpedic with all the cooling stuff you can get. It feels weird at first but once you get used to it every other bed feels like you’re laying on wadded socks.”

Temperpedic – “best ever $$$$ that’s what we use” “We have one too. Love it. We even got the adjustable frame” “best sleep ever” “We love our tempurpedic mattresses. Best nights sleep even with a back full of titanium!”

Sleep Number - “So worth the investment.” “The way to go. Love mine” “We JUST bought this during a Sleep Number half price sale. It’s too new for me to properly review — I haven’t finished setting up all the interactive functions. (It assesses the quality of your sleep each night via their app!). So far, so good…https://www.sleepnumber.com/…/Innovation-Series-Beds/p/iLE”  “it’s an air mattress with two sides (but you can’t tell it’s an air mattress–it seems totally like a normal mattress). But this way you can have a hard mattress and your partner can have it soft or whatever.” “Even my spinal doctor and the neurosurgeon who put my broken neck said the same.”

Coco-Mat USA -” check out this place for toppers and pillows! I know you asked about mattresses and they probably make them too, but my pillow from there is the best. It was an investment, but worth it.”

Double Seely from Sears – “Box spring, mattress, delivery, removal of ancient set cost less than 600 clams.

I’ve never slept better…not just the bed structure, but how nice not to go into debt for slumbering:

Duxiana

Wyndam – “wyndam that sells beds..hotels…always comfy. I would consider for my next purchase.”

Four Seasons Hotel – “sell complete sets: mattresses, sheets and duvets by Frette or Pratesi. Worth asking them.”

Keetsa

Memory Foam Mattress – Having worked years in natural medicine, with a focus on toxins, I have to say that an organic cotton (3 stack for comfort) futon mattress is the only way I go. My boys often try and steal into my bed, still, because of the comfort. Just beware…you will want to sleep all the time on such support. Our spines are best served when we mimic sleeping on the soft ground. Anything else I sleep on makes me ache, in one way or the other. When we spend a third of our lives sleeping, best to avoid such high toxins so close to our preciousness. Interested to see what you conclude. http://www.sleepjunkie.org/are-memory-foam-mattresses-safe/

Northwest Bedding Legacy 200 – “$1,000 recently on a new mattress….I see it as an investment in my health, and am very happy with my choice.” “ There’s an all natural one made from bamboo. Pricey but we never regretted it!”

Casper

Sterns and Fosterhttp://m.macys.com/shop/mattress/stearns-foster-mattress?id=25946  “I love mine” A firm Stearns and Foster with a 2″ memory foam topper to remove discomfort at pressure point

The Davenport – “delicious”

Wrights sells bed

Tuft & Cotton – $600. It was guaranteed. If after 90 days I think it was – if you don’t like it. Donate it – they will refund your money. Do your homework – there are a lot of brands out there that broke the code on overpriced mattresses. We simply Googled – what is the best mattress/why/traditional vs foam etc. there are lots of options & plans. Treat yourself to sheets too. I bought a 2000 count and felt like a queen.

Starwood properties – Don’t think twice call and get their heavenly bed same as in hotels is amaze

Saatva Mattress - They have a traditional mattress and a memory foam mattress. No showroom, you buy online. Delivery charge includes full installation. We love our memory foam mattress and wouldn’t sleep on anything else now. About 1200 for a king, 3 pieces. Very firm. The edges of the mattress are reinforced so there is no sagging if you frequently sit on the side of the bed. We’ve had ours for about a year and a half and it still feels great, no sagging, and no permanent indentations where we sleep. “I love my Satva mattress. Natural no outgassing and amazing comfort for less than mattress store prices”

Hunter and Co – organic – Savvy Brand can customize for your needs.

Vispring – Was expensive 20 years ago. All organic and natural fibers.. Mine is almost 20 years old and still wonderful. Have a list of hotels where you can test drive. FSelected this mattress because it was incredibly firm with a pillow top built in. Web site lists hotels to trial. Test drive to see if it works for you.

Tuft & Needle – Not quite memory foam – but firm and amazing. www.tuftandneedle.com

Ikea Beds – mostly organic, great varieties and super inexpensive!

Eclipse Mattress –  I love the Eclipse we bought for my mom. It’s a dream. Salesman said it’s organic or nontoxic or something too… which I never investigated just how “eco” it was… but is a nice added perk! We got a “natural seasons” http://www.eclipsemattress.com/…/perfe…/natural-seasons/

Cannot recommend it more. I can’t wait for mine to wear out so I can get one for me!

Wrights Mattress store – We just bought one from Wright’s. They use solely a bed manufacturer in Spokane. Our whole house sleeps on their beds. We just got one that they customized with an organic topper for a very reasonable cost. Message me if you want more info!

General advice on beds:

1.) Buy from a place that allows free returns, such as Mancini’s Sleep Works, because you can’t tell by lying on them in the store. 2) Get a FIRM classic innerspring bed if you have a bad back. 2) Sealy Posturepedic almost always has a model at the top of the Consumer Reports list. 3) Add a thin layer of memory foam if it’s too firm. 4) Yes, pure memory foam is too hot. We have a “hybrid” innerspring Sealy Posturepedic w some foam and I find it comfortable but sometimes too hot in the middle of the night. 5) There is no relationship between price and comfort. 6. Most mattress salesmen are full of it. 7. I really liked the salesman at Macy’s in Terra Linda/San Rafael, he was knowledgeable, informative and realistic. 8. Consumer Reports has excellent mattress ratings to help you reduce the dizzying world of choices. Pay $35 or so and use their online algorithm.

You first have to decide about broad categories: FOAM? INNERSPRING? HYBRID? BLOW UP “SLEEP NUMBER” BEDS

Hope you all enjoyed this list and got some good tips.  Now back to writing about writing, and writers, and Montana, and life…  And if you’d like to be part of my Facebook posse, follow me here!

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats in gorgeous Whitefish, Montana!

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

 

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Teacher Appreciation– Three of my All-Stars

Teachers: giving us gifts we'd likely miss on our own

Teachers: giving us gifts we’d likely miss on our own

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve picked a few of my major influencers and asked them to fill out the below Q&A.  Here are their responses.  I encourage you to reach out to your teachers and ask them to share their wisdom. They’re swamped this time of year, so this Q&A is a good way to tease out their pearls without giving them “homework.”  And I encourage you to share their answers with your peeps.  Let’s shine a collective light on those who have been the wind at our backs!  THANK YOU, TEACHERS

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Do you have a teacher you would like to sponsor, or ARE you a teacher who needs to fill up YOUR cup?  Haven has worked with many educators, and I have seen it be the very thing that has them return to their students with renewed spirit, conviction, and useful tools of inspiration.

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 18-22

#1 Nan Caldwell

Nan Caldwell (Lake Forest Country Day School, Spanish Teacher and much much more) was a huge part of the formation of  my spirit and mind.  She showed me, by her sparkling example, how I could be myself in the world, without compromising my heart.  She was the reason I spent a year in Italy, my junior year in college, which I have written about in my memoir and elsewhere, and will be talking about on my deathbed.  And she also taught me a love for languages, and took me to Spain and Portugal with our 9th grade Spanish class, which primed the pump for a lifetime of devoted travel and open-minded/hearted-ness.  Thank you, Nan! You know how much I adore you and always will.  And you know how many many young minds and spirits you have help formed. Here are her pearls of wisdom:

Q&A for Teachers.  (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?  You are ready to sacrifice a higher paying career for one that truly may make a difference in the world.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)  It must be DNA.  I have two uncles and three aunts who are teachers.  My father followed a business career, but I’m a throwback!  I always wanted to be a teacher- even when I was little.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)  Duty!

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)  I think that in today’s world it is important to help students stay grounded and focused on values. Faced with ubiquitous social media sway, it is easy for them to fall prey to materialistic and/or cruel outlooks that influence their behavior. Honesty, kindness, and generosity never go out of style, but it takes some targeted work to maintain that perspective.

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)  One time, I had the students draw monsters that they later had to describe in Spanish for their classmates.  One little boy drew something that looked like a monster octopus.  In his description, he said that it had tentacles coming out of his head and tentacles coming out of his body and six tentacles for legs….except he had the word for testicles!  Heh!  The kids had no idea!

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)  Let your children make mistakes.  Don’t get involved in social problems.  Offer your child some advice, but step back.  Remind them always to be kind and inclusive, no matter what.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)  Food.  It works. They love games, too.  And stories!!

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)  Up at 6:00, at work by 7:15.  Teaching, hall duty, study hall, recess duty, lunch duty, coaching after school, clubs, service projects, 400 emails to answer….home around 6:00.  Make dinner, eat, grade papers until around 10:00. Watch the news so that you are prepared to be a teacher the next day!

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling?   Private schools are as varied as public schools- some excellent, some not much better than a good public school.  The good ones can provide extra personal attention to the individual needs of each child.  That attention and care can usher a student to more fully explore and achieve his/her potential.
College is the right place for academically minded and socially concerned students.  I do not think that every student should feel that college is the only route to a successful career- especially if he/she is passionate about a specific field- gaming, coding, arts, trades, etc.

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)  Occasionally a former student sits down and writes a thank you letter.  Getting one of those makes every day worthwhile!

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)  Set realistic goals.  Don’t overreach and try to be super-teacher.  Take one challenge at  a time and strive for patience and good humor.

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)  All of society’s challenges and solutions begin with families and schools. Plain and simple.  Start there.   

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?  As a teacher of world languages, I hope to open a door through which my students can more authentically explore the history and cultures of other peoples, global issues, and our responsibilities as Americans.  We become not only better guests in other countries, but better citizens of our own.  The path of this knowledge can lead to professional and personal opportunities that are not as readily available to monolinguistic people- opportunities that may begin with friendships, jobs and travel, but ones that also have the potential to telescope toward international relations, human rights and peace.

Will books ever die? I hope not!!!  Please don’t let them!

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#2 Janet Edmonds

Ms. Ed (Janet) was my boarding school English teacher (Westminster School) and I think she taught me something about Hawthorne, (“yea verily” comes to mind), though what I remember most was her love of words.  She had that English teacher wonderlust for books, liked she’d torn herself away from one to get to class, and was eager to feed us with its (and her) knowledge.  Somehow she waded through the classics with us and took us along with her.  She didn’t stand on any desks and speak in Latin…but she did hold us in the elegance of words through the ages, and often when I’m sitting alone with a book, trying to understand just what the author is trying to say, or writing one and doing the same with my own muse,  I think of her quiet countenance and take heart.  Thank you, Ms. Ed!  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Love, Laura

Questions and Answers for Teachers.  

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she or he has one?

They bend and hold us so we can see the light.

They bend and hold us so we can see the light

My hunch is that answers to this question will be like fingerprints, like the unique patterns on whales’ flukes. I think you have a teaching spirit if you start teaching and find that you like it. Plenty of people start teaching and leave after a year or two, but some of them may have turned into excellent teachers had they stayed in the work. There are many factors that go into loving or liking teaching besides your subject and students. You have colleagues, managers (going by names such as the dean and the principal or headmaster), and the rules and values of the institution where you work. A problem in any of those areas can drown a teaching spirit. I loved my subject, students, and colleagues (your best teachers at that school, Laura, were also my best teachers), but as strict as I might have seemed at times (maybe you all saw through that), I could not stay on board with the conservative ethos that existed in many boarding schools in that era. I did not think it was fair or caring for some students. I fought it and I left.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

I wanted to be a teacher when I was in sixth grade because my English teacher assigned a couple of amazing novels and opened up the worlds in poems as if they were flowers with hundreds of petals blooming slowly under a warm sun. I just wanted to be able to do what she did—understand novels, stories, and poems. Of course I discovered that being serious and enthusiastic in a field did not mean I could “make” another person feel the same way. And when we got right down to the purpose of teaching and learning English in high school, what was more important than literature was strong, clear writing. I was 22 years old when I started teaching high school students, and even though I often miss it 30 years after leaving it to work in publishing, I know I wouldn’t have the nerve to try again. I would no longer dare to hope that I could teach someone who doesn’t write with even a tiny bit of ease or who sees no point in acquiring some fundamental skills. Maybe that’s the biggest problem—conveying to a student that there is some long term relevance to them about what you trying to teach.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

A clock radio.

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, especially if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

May I please have an extension? I have some good battle stories: What it felt like when the faculty met to discuss a wonderful boy’s discipline record and whether his most recent infraction merited expulsion, and I was the only one to raise a hand saying no; Why I left . . . .

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

I need an extension for this question, too. You told me you would send a few questions, but you’ve sent term paper assignments. Did you know that? For now I will only say that the funniest things that happened with you guys in and outside of the classroom do not require any “ripping” on you—just joy and gratitude for the warmth and laughter the memories bring.

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

Please, please, please try to realistically understand and love your child’s strengths as a wonderful person instead of crushing him or her with totally unrealistic demands about what college you want him or her to get in to.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck– 3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

 May I contort and distort this question in order to retort and report, Laura? My tricks were all to avoid connecting with my students. I used pop quizzes, extra laps around the field . . . .

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life….)

Again I want more time to answer, but here’s my short answer that applies to teaching in a boarding and day school: Responsibility and discipline. Teachers are responsible for the intellectual, physical, and emotional safety of many teenage human beings. It’s a huge responsibility, and there are school rules to help ensure that safety. Violating the rules can have serious consequences such as suspension and expulsion.

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

I wouldn’t want those things to go away, but I’ve long thought that a person who really wants to learn is going to learn at any institution he or she goes to. It’s the student and not the school that makes the biggest difference although graduating from a school with a widely respected name can be an advantage.

The people who have taught me what I love and how to learn more about those things, who helped me discover the things that give my life meaning are people who did not go to college or end up getting a degree.

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

Emphatically yes and no.

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

 Go on a Haven Writing Retreat. (This experience is on my bucket list.)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

There are things I can’t say, but I’ll start and stop with saying that principals and superintendents who are a) afraid of parents and b) unwilling to support the decisions of teachers in classrooms over complaints of whiny parents should not be principals and superintendents. If you won’t allow teachers to insist that students behave in classrooms, there will be no learning. Grrrrrrr

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Realize that you are “the decider” in your life. You get to say “yes, I can” and “no, I won’t.”

Will books ever die?

Maybe in a long time, there will be few paper books. In a long time.

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

You guys.

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#3 TERRY HAIGHT

Mr. Haight (Terry) was my grade school History and Social Studies teacher and maestro of a 50s a capella singing  group called Terry and the Terrifics, to which I attribute my still-love of singing in harmony and busting out of Shaboom and Goodnight Sweetheart around campfires.  He taught us by DOING, and perhaps this is why my teaching style is yes, instructional, but mostly, experiential.  Total immersion is the best way I know.  And I still know the difference between Ionic, Corinthian, and Doric columns, thanks to one of our Social Studies projects and my girlish moxie to ask ladies of the fine Lake Forest, IL mansions of my youth for house tours, the way t0 describe Raphaels’ lighting and spout off about it at the Louvre last winter, and got to the steps of the Parthenon, first chance I could. Thank you, Mr. Haight.  Lonnie ding dong, a lang a lang a lang…boom boom…wah dah…a doobie doobie day-ee, indeed!  Love and deep bows to you always!  Laura

Reply to questions from Laura Munson:

My replies are in no particular order and are not answers to specific questions. Rather I am writing thoughts encouraged by your questions.

I wanted to be a teacher for a long time. I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Kechuwa, run by Charlie Leake, for the summers of 1965 and 1967. Then I worked at the Hull House camp in East Troy, WI for the summer of 1968. My Father was a professor of History at Lehigh University, my maternal grandfather help found Lake Forest Day School, and my three sisters taught. So you could say there was a tradition of being an educator (and probably a tradition of enjoying summers in Ontario.)

Perhaps most important, I was a weak student and struggled with school. I wanted to make it fun to be in a classroom: A place where hard work was expected but also a place students wanted to come back to. So if there was a “Teaching Spirit” for me it was that I wanted kids to enjoy learning through doing. I remember there being plenty of nights when I’d find myself awake on the edge of my bed pretending to be teaching a class. Part of the “Spirit” was to begin the year by teaching, maybe even telling, and ending the year as a facilitator, as a Watcher of students learning.

To achieve some of this we introduced lots of ways of learning. We often had a “Social Studies Week,” listened to Amahl and the Night Visitors around Christmas, did a lot of group work focused on team play, map making, Word Games if there was extra time, singing, play reading, biography impersonations, and on we went.

Teaching was a joy, but it was hard. I had my students do lots of writing, but that meant hours of corrections and comments. If a student did poorly on a paper or test they could always retake it to improve. And effort really mattered. That meant lots of time to edit and support. There were long days. I remember right after I retired walking thorough the down town area around 11:00 AM. I couldn’t understand what all the adults were doing out and about. As a teacher there was no down time, and I’d feel guilty ducking out to get a haircut.

I taught at the Lake Forest Country Day School from 1972-1999. Aside from the students, the thing that kept me going was the advent of the computer in the classroom. And it was not just for adding up grades. I found the computer presented a more level learning ground for my students and me. “Oh, Mr. Haight. Why not try plugging it in?” “Mr. Haight. Let’s format it this way.”

I attended three summers worth of a great course of using the computer in the classroom put on by Summer Corps. I remember my right hand being so sore as I learned to use a mouse. Am I a supporter of Teacher Professional Development? YES. You should try something like a Writing Retreat. They say the Montana air and beauty will get your writing juices flowing.

I didn’t have any favorite students. I see many of them around town as they have moved back. I see some during the summer. And I see some in faint pictures wearing T-shirts and singing Terrific songs, a 50s a capella group I led with students for years.

I was fortunate to teach in a school that had a tradition of learning and expectations of excellence. We also had a terrific group of parents who supported their children but also the teachers. For parents I encourage you to learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, accept and support both, hug them all the time and love them madly.

THANK YOU TO ALL THREE OF YOU for indulging my questions, and for giving them your heart language and wisdom.  You inspire me.  Please consider reaching out to your teachers and shining a light on them!

 

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Mother’s Day

(as featured on BlogHer)

Give your mother, your daughter, yourSELF the gift of  a Haven Writing Retreat!  

Now Booking 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 18-22

The other day I was wondering about my great-grandmother and the land she came to Illinois to Homestead with her husband and eight kids.  I have a photograph of the family in my office, all seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug.  Mid 1800s.  She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass kicking.  If not, she’d just turn her boney Yankee shoulder to you and you would understand for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of disdain.  I wanted to know about my mothers. Especially this one.  I wanted to know what she was like outside this photo.  If she had a soft side.  I was wondering about the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont.  If she ever looked back.  And I was wondering about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana a hundred and fifty plus years later, along with a caned birds-eye maple chair…and if she’d like me to use them more often, or take care of them differently, or better yet, I wanted to know the story about them.  How she chose what she chose to make her covered wagon crossing from Vermont to Illinois.  I was wondering how I can serve her memory.  Mostly, I was wondering if I have her in me.  If I can look at my life like chapters instead of a tower of blocks that add up to some sort of art in the end.

So I called my mother.

My father is dead. This was his side of the family.  But my mother is the sort of person to marry it all—not just the man.  I’ve traipsed through cemeteries all over New England and Illinois with my mother in search of my ancestors’ resting places on both sides of the family.  She calls us “cemetery people.”  I never knew what that meant.  Now, in middle age, I think I do.  It means that we hold our deceased in story and artifacts and we don’t let them go.  We firmly believe that we need them.  We believe that they are in our lives holding us from a mystic zone that might be called Heaven.  (We are also Heaven people.)  My mother actually prays for our deceased ones.  And asks them to protect us.  Like we go God both ways.

“They left in a covered wagon for central Illinois because the land was rich and they didn’t rotate their crops in Vermont so the soil wasn’t any good,” she rattles off like a memorized soliloquy from the phone between bridge and altar guild.  “I have some of their letters if you want me to Xerox them and send them to you.”

And suddenly I am in a panic.  She’s in her 80s.  She’s vibrant and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore.

“They thought I could do no wrong.”

Suddenly, I am imagining that day for myself and I dread it.  It will be a claustrophobic feeling:  I need my mother.  She’s not here.  There is quite possibly no one who has the answer to my question left on earth.  There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little story or my little panic or my little woe.  Who do I call?  A friend?  It would sound too needy or too braggadocio.  A child?  Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.  After your parents pass…who is strong for you?

I called her the other day to find out about my great-grandmother, and ended up learning all about my mother.  I asked her questions instead of just monologuing about my life and my victories and problems.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall hotel.  “The Water Tower.  I believed it was my fairy princess castle.”  There is a newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline.  “Virginia Aldrich has the City of Chicago in the palm of her hand.”  I always loved that my mother was such a beauty.  I haven’t told her that.  There is so much I haven’t told her.  (And I have to add here that when I asked her to send me a photo of her as a young woman…without letting her know what it was for…on top of the fact that she was packing to go to a fundrasier in Washington, she sent me this LOVELY photo of herself.  She is so loyal that she took the time in her nightie which you can see reflected, to do this for me, having no idea what I’m up to.  You can see it in the reflection and that is such a metaphor for who she is to me.  May we all have mothers like this.  Busy, in our nighties, who pull through in the eleventh hour for our daughters and sons…)

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.

I love that you are a flirt.

I love that you have a big laugh.

I love that you love to skip.  I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.

That’s Mom in the bottom left!

I love that you love Gran Marnier soufflé.

I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.

I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in Guys and Dolls and The Fantastiks.  That would
not have happened without you.  Dad wouldn’t have made that effort.

I love that you always make the effort.

I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.

I love that you read every single thing I write and I love knowing that you will read this.

I love that you told me to go to Italy for my junior year in college instead of Vienna.  I loved that you cried about it, knowing what cloth I am cut from.

I love that you go to church.  That you value community service and volunteer endlessly.

I love that you have your own business and are good at what you do.

I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.

I love that you don’t watch a lot of TV.

I love that you are a good friend to many.

I love that you aren’t wasteful.

I love that every single time I call you, and ask what you are doing, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing.  Which is always a lot.

I love that you don’t “sit around and eat bon bons all day” and never would.

I love that you made us read aloud a Bible passage every night at dinner.

I love that you made us say Grace.

I love that you made us wear shoes at the table and learn where all the utensils are supposed to go and to say, “are you finished” instead of “are you done” and taught us to Remove from the right and Serve to the left.

I love that you made us take piano lessons.

I love that you were never late.  Never.  I am usually five minutes late.

I love that you sang to me and read me stories when I was little.

Where all the snapdragons and pansies and pink roses grew.

I love that you had me take horse-back riding lessons but told me that it would be too pressured a life if I got into competing in the horse world.  You were right.  I was not cut out for that kind of pressure.

I love that you framed my childhood art.

I love that you love pink roses and snapdragons and yellow pansies.  I love that you made little arrangements of them and put them on my bedside table.

I love that for someone who sure does know a lot of influential people, you aren’t a snob.

I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2017 that you wore in 1950.

I love that you love yourself.

I love that you love me.

At my hometown book signing– look how happy we are. Wow.

What a class act.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Teacher Appreciation Week: A Q&A for your favorites!

Haven Writing Retreats

Helping the written word be the teacher it is!

I never thought I’d be a teacher.  I still don’t actually call myself one.  I’m more of a facilitator.  The design of my Haven Writing Retreat is the ultimate teacher.  The writing exercises.  The readings.  The guided feedback.  The community of word-lovers.  And of course, Montana.  I hold the whole thing, ’tis true.  And I love it with all my heart.

Doing this work has had me in reflection about the teachers who have shaped me, some of them no longer with us, but forever in my head and hopefully in my prose.  Favorite lines like, “Get rid of the bombast and the deadwood!”  (Gordon McKinley, Westminster school).  ”Good Morning, Miss Munson,” (Malcolm Coates, yanking on my pony-tail as I was nodding off, making me read William Safire On Language out loud from the NYT magazine.  9th grade.  Lake Forest Country Day School).  Memorizing Desiderata in 7th grade and reciting it as a class.  (Scott Bermingham, LFCDS). “You will get an automatic F if you use the Passive Voice.”  (Thank you, English Department, Westminster school.  BTW, I can still recite Sonnet 18.  Shall I compare thee…).  ”You really should think seriously about going abroad for an entire year.”  (Nan Shiras.  Spanish class.  6th grade.  LFCDS).  ”It was supposed to be an hour-long presentation on the Bruges Madonna, Laura.  Not a short story about it being stolen by the Nazis from Mary’s point of view.”  (D minus.  Later published in a literary journal.  Rab Hatfield.  Junior Year abroad.  Syracuse University.  Florence, Italy campus).  The answer Yes to this:  ”I’d like to do an independent study on crayon drawing.  But what I’m really doing is buying time to work on a novel.”  (Tony Stoneburner– Senior year.  Dension University).  And perhaps the defining moment of my life:  ”This is not cinema, Ms. Munson!  Take this (full length screenplay) to the fools in the English Department!” (Elliot Stout , Cinema department– Denison University).  And the consequent, “Where have you been for the last three years?  I’m putting you in the advanced Creative Writing class.”  (Dick Kraus, English department– Denison University).  Bless you people.  And so many more, of course.

Last week, I was inspired by a two time Haven Writing Retreat alum and retired teacher, Donna Naquin, to honor some of my favorite teachers.  By the magic of social media, I found them, and asked them if they would answer these questions, or at least a handful of them.  I will be posting their responses here on May 15th.  I invite you to use this questionnaire with your favorite teachers.  Feel free to email the responses to me and I will post the top five here.  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com  

Q&A for Teachers (current and retired)   (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

What gets you (got you) out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Will books ever die?

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

For more info and to set up a time to talk, email Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

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