Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #1: Finding Your Voice

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Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats both to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

Essay #1: STOP TRYING SO HARD by Diana Davis-Dyer

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My voice can get loud. Since I was little, I’ve made sure that I’m heard every time my mouth opens.  “Project!”, my acting teacher said. No problemo.

But the booming voice in my little body didn’t translate to the page. Or so I thought.

I’ve been writing since I can remember. On napkins, coasters, boxes, journals. Things that can be written on. Before puberty I didn’t care what I wrote. I let it flow. My words surprised me and my parental audience because this happy kid always wrote sad stories. But I didn’t care. I wrote what I wrote.

Once the insecurities of awkward teenage years took their toll, I started to care. I shared less. I wrote what I thought people wanted to read. This lasted until my late twenties. Then I just didn’t give a fuck. I decided to go big or go home. However when you go big, you get even more self-conscious, asking, “Too far?” And I was writing screenplays with a partner. Leaning on her to tell me my ideas were good. Leaning on her to bring out the best in me. What I failed to see is that the best was always in me, I just didn’t believe in her.

Last year, while working  for a Director who was editing his first feature film and in my own private office, I wrote my first very own feature length screenplay whenever I had a free moment. The office manager put my desk up on cinderblocks for pacing, leg lifting exercises, all the while talking to myself as my characters, working out scene descriptions and squinting my eyes at the ceiling to picture my Montana Mountain scenes. Scenes that I thought people wanted to see. Dialogue that I thought audiences would gasp at. But when the first words of my modern-day western, mountain-town thriller stared at me,  I hated them. The pages felt they like fell out of a telenovela script on its way to the garbage. I didn’t start writing screenplays to create stories that I’ve already read and disliked. So I deleted it all and began again. This time, I wrote without an audience in mind.

I wrote from my gut. I wrote from the tiny nail on my pinky toe. I wrote from the embarrassing moments that happened way too late in life. I wrote from the head squeezing hangovers as a result of too much fun and too many bad decisions. I wrote from the anger I only let out in boxing class. I wrote from loneliness that I never admit to anyone. I wrote from the loss I felt when my parents betrayed each other. I wrote from the heartache that I feel everyday when I think of my mother.

Most of this writing happened with my eyes closed. Going back to spell check, add the missing words. Funny. I’m doing that now.

I find myself going back to that crowd-pleasing place but those words always get erased. When the blank page finds me once again, my eyes close and remember that I was lucky enough to find my voice when I stopped trying to create one for someone else.

- Diana Davis-Dyer

 

Essay #2: RUBY SLIPPERS by Nicole Restauri

Forward

The howler monkeys laughed and hooted at my insomnia and yet they still provided companionship as I lay awake with the inescapable damp of the jungle lying heavy on my clothes and sheets. In the morning, beading pearls of moisture bejeweled the leaves and my brow as I leaped and twirled like a crazed magician beneath the moss-lined canopy of our tree house dance studio. The heaviness of this wet world pulled me to the earth in a way that made every gravity-defying step intentional.

I came to the jungle without expectations, hoping to find freedom and to trade the halls of academia for the art of dance. I was a 39 year-old physician, half hippie and half yuppie; more accustomed to club level at the Ritz Carlton, now in an eco-resort in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest on an ecstatic dance retreat. In truth, I was lost, and all of the rules and tools I had acquired to find my way home were broken. I had to go bigger, find a new pair of ruby slippers, and it was scary.

Our tribe’s gracious leader announced that this afternoon we would be using voice to work with our throat chakras. My skin hurt at the mention of Voice and it felt as if someone had encased my neck in plastic wrap. Voice is not a benign word, within it lies the beating heart of vulnerability. Our task that afternoon was to walk into the jungle, in groups of three, and sing without words until we felt the power from our gut drive the unique song that only we could produce. No falsetto here. This was about power.

My tentative threesome entered the jungle in silence and found a hopeful place at the foot of an ancient twisted Banyan tree.  “Who wants to go first?” asked Lisa, the extrovert in our group, adding, “I think we should hold hands.”  Feeling foolish, I started small. The encouraging eyes of my partners gently drew me on to a deeper place and I realized that the vastness of the jungle held space for exploration and expansion. The sound was never “pretty.” It was raw. After all, “pretty” is just a shell that cracks when faced with something deeper that is more akin to soul. As my throat quivered and reached for its rightful place, I found a strength and connection from core to vocal chords. Something in my body let go. If a girl has to fly to the middle of the jungle and scream into the abyss to finally hear her own voice, well then, so be it.

It is hard to be honest in this world; to study our reflection and hear our voice without falling in love with it, degrading it or running from it. This experiment in the jungle unveiled a tool that was mine for the taking all along: a compass leading to my true north as a writer. The body holds our story, with more honesty than our mind, and it will whisper into our hand as we put pen to paper. My connection now is core to throat to pen, and I know it in my bones when I meet myself on the blank page. When I do not show up, I find a tree, I sit, breathe and sometimes I scream. Eventually, there is a homecoming and a bearing witness to the messy goodness and courage it takes to leave pretty behind…

-Nicole Restauri

Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Your Voice: The 2017 Haven Winter Blog Series

 

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.

This year that theme is Voice.

I use the phrase Find Your Voice often, and people often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean?  If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless?  Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place?  And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth?  Were we told from a very young age that we should be seen but not heard, or that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, or act like a show off?  Or that we should only speak when we were spoken to?  When we expressed ourselves in a way that didn’t fit the mold, were we punished?  Were our mouths washed out with soap…maybe even just for saying the word “no?” or “why?” Maybe we endured verbal or physical abuse over our words from the very beginning and so we learned to keep them inside of us and maybe they have never felt safe in the world ever since.  Maybe we’ve learned how “to be a parrot just to cite a silly rule,” in the words of the boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Maybe our words were considered inconvenient for the people around us, or even dangerous, and they deemed us their enemy, making it their full focus to destroy our words and the integrity around them.  The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless.  What I hear over and over again is this:  “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”

 To this I say: Who are you not to? Because the truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try.  At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact:  no one can write like you can.  Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention:  it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly.  You are not in the way of it.  It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.  And as I’ve said many times:  ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake.

So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Writing Retreat alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.  And set it free.

Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  Nobody can take that away from you.  Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling.  And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out.  Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”

Yrs. Laura

p.s.  As a special Valentine’s Day gift to yourself, listen to the New York Times and WBUR Modern Love Podcast series! It is full of stories of love, its messiness and sometimes resolve, its bravery and always-teachings. Recently, I got to hear my own writing voice spoken and intuited by the talented and powerful actress, Alysia Reiner, who absolutely nailed my essay, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear– the short version of my New York Times best-selling memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, and the #2 ranked Modern Love essay in the history of the column.  It has been reproduced in print all over the world...and now, thanks to Alysia and the Modern Love Podcast…it has an actual voice.  Deep bows of gratitude.  

Haven Writing Retreats 2017 Schedule

February 22-26 (full with wait list)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreatgo to the Contact Us button here.

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New Year’s Hope: Winged Victory

So Now What?

So now what?

Not very long ago, I was told that I would lose my life as I was used to living it.  “Fasten your seatbelt,” someone said—someone who’d recently been through a divorce, lost her house, her children half the time, her dignity.  Her face had the map of near-catastrophe to show for it.  As I looked down the unconscionable barrel of divorce, another recent divorcee said, “Out of the two of you, I put my money on the pony that is you.”  I looked at her dumbfounded.  I had never been the bread winner.  I was the hearth keeper and full-time mother.  That was the agreement from the beginning and for twenty years, and I had put all of my security and dreams into the life we had created, the house, the land, the marriage, the co-parenting.  So, I was fetal with fear, trying to figure out how to get out of bed and have the courage for tea, never mind total reinvention worthy of a good bet.

According to statistics, my parting husband, the mediator, and most everyone I knew, I was going to have to down-size.  The house was in foreclosure, I didn’t have health insurance, savings, a job, or any income whatsoever.  How was this possible for a smart, savvy, well-educated, well-raised, feminist mother?  That’s what I asked myself on a rolling tape that tsunami-d over me until I was barely holding the weeds at the bottom of the ocean of fear, and worst of all, shame.

Another divorcee said, “I promise you…in one year’s time…your life will be better than you could ever imagine it.  I promise.”  I hate when people act like they have a crystal ball.  But I held on to that promise, because I wasn’t sure what else to hold on to except the fact that my kids were thriving and my motherhood was too.  That’s all that mattered to me.  Getting out of bed, facing the day, getting through it with some level of grace, and being there to be the mother that I had always been, even when they weren’t with me, even when half of their lives was totally outside of my control.

In those impossible moments, their bedrooms empty, no homemade dinners to serve, no sleepy morning breakfast heart-to-hearts, no lunches to make and wrap with little loving notes…I surrendered myself to the foundation I had given them and the fact that they’d eaten enough organic food to counter-balance whatever they now were being served—they could survive on fruit cups and Jello and supermarket rotisserie chicken, and whatever else was now their reality…couldn’t they?  In those grueling dark nights of the soul, I took heart.  One year from now.  Better.  How was this possible?

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What wings?

What could make life better?  I was told I had to start looking at condos in town.  I would lose the land that held my little family and all our sledding parties, birthday parties, Christmas caroling and luminaria, a million walks with six dogs, raptors riding thermals over our heads as we picked splinters and told jokes, played cards by candlelight, coyotes echoing it all back to us in the night.  A condo in Montana?  I couldn’t think of anything more counter-intuitive for the life I had set up, curated, procured, and which gave me infusions every day, as a once wife, always mother, and woman who needs her muse to run naked in the woods.

I have always been stubborn and when I lack the practical common sense behind my convictions, there is a question that I ask and it has guided me well since I was a little girl:  What can I create?

So sitting there in my house one day, crying in fear and desperation, I asked myself:  What can I create?  How can I keep my house, my land, my children’s lives from unravelling any more than they already have?  This was never something I imagined for them, or for any of us.  How can I make this work?  What do I know how to do? 

At that point I’d published a New York Times and international bestseller, and as always was working away on more book projects, but even so, the writing process takes time, and the publishing world is complex.  The long and short of it was that I was in deep financial trouble with no immediate practical way out that I could see.  I’ll spare you the gory details.  And myself too.  Here’s where the hope lives and why I’m sharing this with you:  On that day, I put my fear and shame to the side and opened my mind to the world of possibility.  If my friend said she’d put her money on the pony that she said was me, and my other friend promised that my life would be markedly better in a year…what could I see for myself?  What did I know how to do that could be fairly and significantly monetized?  But not find me selling out my dreams, my writing, my total dedication to my true purpose.  My sole true purpose was mothering and writing, wasn’t it?  What else was congruent with who I am?

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Open your heart, mind, arms…and jump!  Trust in your wings!

Well…I knew how to write.  I knew how to sit myself down and write no matter what was going on in my life, and always had.  It had gotten me through hard times and it had resulted in published work that landed in people’s hearts.  I could speak about perseverance and dealing with rejection and the practical application of philosophies I’d learned along the way in the realm of emotional freedom and empowerment.  I could be transparent, vulnerable, heart-in-the-hand honest and loving.  I was natural at leadership and well-seasoned in the dynamics of intimate groups and how to keep them safe and healthy.  I could create and hold the space for people to find their way to these life-lines which had been my guide for years.  And I could come up with very relatable and inspiring exercises to help people learn what I’d learned– to help people give themselves permission to find their unique voice and express it, using the power of the written word.  And as if in Shakespearean choir…a few other friends with crystal balls had whispered Writing Retreat in my ear for months.  I hadn’t really listened until that moment when I knew I could not live by fear any longer if I was ever going to get to the other side.

Without a whole lot more rumination, (I’ve found that fearlessness works best that way), I put it on Facebook:  Anyone want to go on a writing retreat in Montana with me?  In two hours, twenty-four people signed up, and Haven Writing Retreats was born.  Five years and four hundred people later, if there was a race to be betted on, and a winner’s circle and wreath of roses around my neck…and a lucky person who gambled on the longshot, I can say with humble-pride that maybe some people deserve their crystal balls.  I can say that I am grateful for their confidence when I didn’t have it for myself, never mind my future.  And I can say that it is absolutely possible that you can take exactly who you are and turn it into a business, a career, and even financial stability.

Winged Victory!

Winged Victory!

Whether you’re a single mother going through a divorce, or recently fired from your job, or in re-invention without a view into your future at all…ask yourself this powerful question:  What can I create?  It may be right under your nose.  And it may be some of the most important work of your life.

And even if you’re not, even if you have all the security in the world in the people, places, and abundance of your life…never take it for granted.  Don’t live in fear of the rug being ripped out from underneath you.  But do know what your passions are and live them with all your might.  I’m glad then, that my passions were in a row when the rug got ripped out from under me, even if my ducks weren’t.  Passions are mine-able.  Anyone can be an alchemist, if they have something powerful to work with.  And the most powerful matter I know…is the truth of who you are, the special way you have of showing up in the world, where you find the ease of true power and purpose, and give yourself permission to live it, use it, be it.

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

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Happy 2017 from my family to you!

So as we enter 2017, to all of us who are toiling to see brightness in our future, or a future at all…take heart.  If I could have seen that day in my world of hurt, what this Holiday season looked like, I wouldn’t have been able to believe my eyes.  I would have seen a mother and her children in Paris, eating macarons in a beautiful boutique hotel, old and new friends feasting over long dinners of delectable food, laughter and love, toasting and fond reminiscing.  Smiles that beamed as bright as the Eiffel Tower at midnight, and as deeply and wisely as the Mona Lisa’s, and as mystically as the Gregorian chants in a candle-lit Notre Dame.  I would have seen a mother and her young adult children– a trio so powerfully woven as they walked the medieval streets of Bruges, Belgium holding hot chocolate and Gluhwein, basking in the Dutch countryside, caves and chateaux where earls and knights once lived, writing wishes for each other on slips of paper for 2017.  And I would have seen them in a holy pause for a week in Amsterdam in a 17th century little house around the corner from the Westerkerk that kept Anne Frank’s hope alive, chiming every fifteen minutes as if to remind us that we are here, and we are together and we are not just thriving.  We are happy.

P.S.  And I kept our house…and am deeply into three books, hopefully coming to your bookshelf sooner than later…

A Slice of Haven Writing Retreats: 

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat 2017 (ranked in the top 3 writing retreats in the US!)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come…just a seeker…looking for your VOICE!

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Merrier Me

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When laughing didn’t hurt…

Like a lot of people this weekend
who opted to tuck in front of the fire in lieu of holiday parties, I watched Rudolph, which always stresses me out and I’m not sure why I go, “awwwwwwwwww” when I see it’s going to be on television because that abominal snowmonster still freaks me out and all those sad toys with Rankin Bass puppet mouths, and then Frosty (ditto—he melts!  A little girl cries next to the puddle once known as his former self, and there’s a cloying bad guy that he can’t shake with a weird rabbit helper—I forget what happens in the end.  I think he moves to Brooklyn.)

download (1)And then the healing began.  Mary Poppins.  Two hours of Mary and Bert and tuppence and votes for women and evening govnah and magic umbrellas and bottomless carpet bags and sidewalk chalk painting portals into barber shop penguins and carousels with real horses and hilarious helium tea on the ceiling and and and.  Even though she leaves them in the end and they all have to find their inner Mary Poppins.download

The only thing of it is:  I laughed.  And that is a physical response to emotions I haven’t let myself feel for two months.  The who what when where why how of it has to do with a horse and my tendency to act over-confident when I’m scared.  And a loose cinch.  In short, he zigged, I zagged.  Bottom line:  if you’re going to ride horses, you’re going to end up on the ground sometimes.  You just hope you don’t hear actual bones cracking.  Three of them.  Ribs.

If you’ve broken a rib, you are now making the face I make when I see the abominal snowmonster.
download (2)It suuuuuuucks.  Breaths are reduced to small sips, coughing and sneezing are a delicacy you can only succumb to if you can’t not, sighing is not recommended, sleeping in any position at all is nearly unattainable (I seriously almost bought a recliner and put it in the living room), talking with any animation is ish-y, singing is better left to a dull hum, crying—meh…and laughter?  Laughter is verboten, like the Burgermeister Meisterburger has some sort of hold on you.

You know that kind of laughter that happens at weddings and funerals and graduation speeches that you can’t control?  It has total occupation of your diaphragm?  Well, that’s one of my central goals in life.  That kind of belly-womping primordial caccination.  With snorts in-between.  If you can’t breath deeply, you can’t pull it off, not by any stretch.  So you have a choice:  Laugh your way into scar tissue that will remind you of your stupid horse tricks for the rest of your life when you climb a ladder or reach for your shoes.  Or go deadpan.  Poker face.  In short, I’ve been officially depressed.  I lead retreats.  I needed to go on one.  Just not in my bed for two months, groaning.bdd9bf5f53c4df963b2e91e3a5b2e939

And now that it’s the holidaze, the Kay jewelers people don’t help.  Or those Folgers ads.  Or all the perfect Facebook Christmas trees.  Or the families in matching sweaters on my Christmas cards.  Or the fact that I haven’t gotten a Christmas card out this year and probably won’t.  In my mind, it’s still October.  Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened.  I’m finally going out for a ride on my horse after a grueling fall work schedule.  I’m tired.  I feel sorry for myself.  And I’m going to do something nice for myself, damnit.  He jigged.  I jagged.  And I watched fall become winter from my bed for the most part of two months.

But I’m not writing this to complain.  I’m writing all of this to say that I now know what gratitude really means.  Bless you, cup of tea that took me twenty minutes to make, including the hard launch from bed– the roll, the sidle, the squirm, the shuffle, the sit, and the big one:  the stand…the walk…and the stairs…the stairs, the pick up the tea pot, the fill it with water, the ow ow ow ow ow all the way back up the stairs, back to sit, to the slow timber back into the pillows.  Oh.  And then there’s the tea.  Waaaaaaay over there on the nightstand, a century of inches away.  “Forget it.  Let it get cold.  I’ve just done the Iditorod.”  And there she lay.  Watching the sun move around the house and the moon rise, and all of her responsibilities fall like the leaves she never got to on the lawn, and the snow that’s coming, that came, and all the people she’ll have to ask to help her do simple things and all the shame around one stupid moment on a horse that she was planning on riding every day for eight straight weeks of much-needed horse therapy.  Her new craving:  Epsom salts.  And oh, that cold cup of tea.  If only someone would come in with a fresh steaming cup and fold her laundry…  Still, I have never been more grateful for just being able to get up and make the tea, never mind drink it.

That said, all that woe-is-me managed to loop itself around to a world of hurt that I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve never taken anti-depressants, and for the first time, I seriously considered it.  And then, just as I was thinking this would be my permanent world…I caught myself laughing at something on Jimmy Fallon.  And it hurt…so good.  And I realized what was really wrong.  It wasn’t the horselessness or the shame or the frustration or even the pain.  It was the lack of laughter in my life.  Without laughter, I was living in a colorless world of fair-to-middling.  I had untrained myself out of delight.  Joy.  Unabashed explosions of glee.  And it had to stop.  I am a laugher.  No matter what.  I needed to get back on that horse.  (The other one can wait.)

So on Saturday night, in my eighth week of recovery, my ribs more mended than not, with permission from Mary Poppins and her tea-time wack-wonkery, I let myself laugh.  Ecstatic laughing.  In hee hee hees and hoh hoh hohs and hah hah hahs.  It made LOL look like mere titter.  And man…did it feel good.  My whole being felt light and alive in a way it hasn’t for far too long.  I am so grateful for this simple and essential human ability.  I love to laugh, indeed.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

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***According to Mayo clinic laughter is just what the doctor ordered!

***PS.  In all that lying around, I did manage to write 150 pages of a book.  So there’s that.  #grateful

 

 

 

 

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Pilgrimage

Song of the Lark160018_4152498

In the season and spirit of pilgrims…let’s look at how change is essential, and perspective is everything.


When I was twenty, I had a summer internship at the Art Institute of Chicago in their Prints and Drawings department. In the afternoons, we’d assist visitors who wanted to view certain works of art in the by-appointment public gallery, and in the morning…we had the place all to ourselves. There were five of us, all wanna-be one day art historians, and about as many PhD curators who were happy to stop what they were doing and answer questions. So our days began in a vault full of stacks and stacks of boxes in alphabetical order. You name it—if there was a famous artist who put writing implement to paper, they very probably had a piece in this collection. Rembrandt. Rothko. Mary Cassatt. Matisse. Michelangelo. DaVinci. It was absolute manna, so typical of Chicago’s long line of artistic patronage. They had Cezanne’s sketchbook, for Lord’s sake. With his grocery list and his son’s drawings in the margins. I loved those mornings.

I’d spent the last school year in Florence, Italy after all, feasting on the Renaissance. I was in a place of artistic glut. Dizzied by an embarrassment of riches in the way of visual art and inspiration. So it was no small mistake that in that year, I decided to write a novel. Just as an experiment. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t consider myself a writer. I considered myself an artistic person who wasn’t good enough to be an actual artist, so I’d be a champion of artists. It seemed more practical. More the sort of thing my North Shore parents and friends could relate to an support. More the sort of thing I’d been raised for. Maybe I’d work at Sotheby’s. Maybe I’d own an art gallery. Maybe I’d go back to school and get my Phd and become a museum curator. The only thing was…none of those prospects really appealed to me. Not when I was sitting in that vault deciding between Mary Cassatt’s aquatints and Matisse’s Jazz book.

Sometimes, I’d bring my journal in there and just write, feeling the hearts and passion play of those artists throbbing in my body. I was writing more and more, all about this girl who was a painter, living on an island in Greece, who had fled her life of higher education and societal expectation. The first line of that first book was “Claire sat on her patio wondering what to paint.” I was sitting in that vault, twenty, wondering who I really wanted to be. Who I really was. I felt misunderstood.  I felt trapped by my future. I was angry. And scared. And lucky for me, I was restless.

Each day at lunch, I would shove down a sandwich and head up to the main galleries of the museum, and I would wander them, memorizing their placement so that my emotions would surge in anticipation around each corner. I knew those galleries. I loved those galleries. But there was one painting that took my breath away, quite literally, every time. The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton. 

The image is of a peasant girl, barefoot on a dirt road, holding a sickle in her hand, looking skyward as a bird flies by, the sun low in the sky. I was that girl. My true self was stuck in the wheel society had carved for me. Only mine was in no way the life of the peasant. Quite the opposite. Somehow though, I related with this girl. I was made of dreams that quite possibly would never come true too. And, like the girl, I was going to do something about it. There was no way that girl would be on that road in that peasant’s skirt and bare feet much longer, holding that sickle in that fist. She was going places. Probably that very night she was going to run away from home and hop on a horse going west. I’d follow her. What kind of lie was I telling myself? I wasn’t the person behind the art. I was the artist. I had things I wanted to put down on paper. Only they were words. So I spent that summer writing that novel in every free speck of time I had. And I haven’t stopped since.  I’m hoping to produce a novel that will find its readers in the next little while.  Hard at work and in love with it.  As it should be.

Whenever I return to Chicago, I make a point, like a pilgrimage, of going to the Art Institute and standing before The Song of the Lark. It still takes my breath away; it still gives me chills. But the way I have come to look at it surprises me. Now I see something different in the girl. She did not leave. She’s still there. Another day in the field. She is not free. But the bird…the bird is free. And she’s raising that sickle, not against her lot in life, but against that bird. Against that freedom she will not know. Her fingers are drawn up like a fighter in both hands. Her mouth is slack like she’s been sucker punched. She is bound by that painting to which Jules Breton committed her. Where she once was my heroine, she now smacks as a willful slave. I am sorry for her, and I am sort of ashamed of her. 

That’s what art does when it’s true. It’s alive in the heart. And we make it our own. At least I do, with this painting of this girl. I have needed to. I have needed to see that I have grown out of rebellion and into freedom. She is my reminder. The last time I went, in fact, I could barely look her in the eye, for all her victimhood. She couldn’t leave. You can always leave, I wanted to shout. No matter what your lot is in life. You can. And coming from privilege doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. So much to lose… But in the end, I learned that I am not bound by the painting that was painted for me. I am only bound by myself. I left that bondage, and I wrote and I am not that girl in the painting. I am, dare I say, the lark.

The beauty of it is that I’m sure there is a twenty year old girl somewhere, probably in Chicago, who comes to this painting and sees her fight and sees her flight and realizes it, in part, because of this girl’s raised fist and sickle. And maybe she will get on the horse and get out of town. Or maybe she will stay and paint her own painting of herself right where she lives, because that is possible too. That is perhaps more than I had the guts for.

And yes, maybe she will return one day, the fight out of her, and relate more to the bird in the sky. I hope that for her. I hope that we grow in the seasons of our life and that in the deliberate act of moving through them, we find ourselves with new pilgrimages to take and new ways to see. Now back to the novel…

Go on your own Pilgrimage to Montana…  Find your voice…set it free! 

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

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Thanksgiving Gravy Heaven

Well, Thanksgiving is almost here and many of us fear the  gravy.  Fear NOT!  You don’t need flour.  You don’t need to reduce anything.  And for heaven’s sake, you don’t need some powdered packet from the grocery store.  I have been playing around with my gravy for years, and this is where I’ve landed.  It’s a commitment, but you will be having “some turkey with your gravy” by the time you take your first taste.  Enjoy, and remember to tell the people you’re with on this holiday what you appreciate about them.  And stay off politics!!!!!!!  (see last blog)

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

  • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

  • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
  • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
  • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
  • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
  • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…
Giblet stock for gravy base
Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

  • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
  • Add the neck and other organs—brown
  • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
  • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
  • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
    day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.
  • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

  • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
  • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
  • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
  • Strain the giblet stock.
  • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
  • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
  • Cook down for a few minutes.
  • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 
    Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...
    Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven
    Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!
And here…it…is!
Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!
Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones!

Are you longing to say what you want to say?  Find your voice?  Haven Writing Retreats is now booking for 2017.  Click here for  our calendar!  The gift of voice awaits you in the woods of Montana.

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We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016

IMG_0091Thanksgiving is here and families are assembling from all corners of the country.  And unless you come from a family I didn’t know existed, this year brings with it a new challenge, on top of the usual political, religious, sexual, gender, racial, and on and on differences.  This year all of us…ALL of us…experienced something that let’s be honest:  blew us away.  A business man is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America…and it has a lot of people…well, feeling pretty un-united.  This is problematic in too many ways to opine about now, plus I’m probably not smart enough to make any fetching points that haven’t already been made by people like David Remnick and Noam Chomsky.  (Now you know who I voted for.  And why my teenager says, I shouldn’t post this because when you talk about politics, you get “butt hurt” for it.)  I don’t even want to know what that means.  But I am sure:  we all need to find our Thanksgiving gratitude.  So…

I’m not here to talk about politics today.   I’m here to write about something I’m truly worried about for us as a nation:  How to make Thanksgiving work this year.  Really work.  Uh oh…I smell a top ten list coming on.  As you might have noticed, I loathe top ten lists.  But this year…we need to boil some sh** down.  So here goes.  No hate mail please.  I’m trying to help:

1)    Maybe don’t bring up politics or religion AT ALL, and I mean a total moratorium on both of them.  Like even in the family Grace and in the What I’m Grateful For thing.  Talk about the weather.  Talk about the gravy.  Talk about why you love the person sitting next to you.  Talk about the walk you’re going to take after the meal, and on the walk after the meal, don’t talk about anything other than the weather and why you love the person you’re walking with and what you’re going to buy on Black Friday, especially if it’s at your local independantly owned mom and pop shop.  Wait– stay off the homogenization of America theme.  Maybe go back to why you love the person walking next to you and call it good.

2)    Maybe, unless you’re from Cleveland, talk about the Cubs winning the World Series.  And if you are from Cleveland, talk about what a super bitching game it was all the way to the end.

3)    Maybe…be the artsy token weird aunt and say, “Why don’t we take a vow of silence during our meal, in honor of the Pilgrims and how they felt silenced enough to leave their country and fight for their religious freedom.”  Oops.  Axe that.  We’re not bringing up religion or politics, remember.  Or race relations.  Maybe just take a vow of silence.

4)    Maybe ask the host to give you a play by play break down of how she/he cooked the turkey.  If she/he brined…FABULOUS.  This will take up at least ½ an hour of the meal and the pride which he/she deserves will gush.  Gushing joy and pride is a good thing in the way of feeding loved ones.  Let’s raise the rafters on that!  (True to the holiday, we’re going for gratitude.)  If he/she deep fried the bird, you can compliment them on their rogue courage.  If she/he basted every half an hour and made their own giblet gravy, you can take deep bows and call them Martha Stewart.  If you need more content, you can ask them about their position on to stuff or not to stuff.IMG_0097

5)    Maybe play an after meal family game.  Like Pictionary.  Or Scattegories.  Just stay away from Celebrity Apprentice the Board Game, and Bridge.

6)    Maybe decide that this is the year where you truly will put your unconditional love barometer to the test.  Love them all.  Love them especially because they voted for someone you couldn’t stand.  Love them for their differences.  Love them for the conversation that is behind it all:  I need to believe in something.  Everyone is scared.  Voting shows hope.  And that’s what we want in the end:  a hopeful nation.

7)    If you are in grief over the election, find someone who is too and talk to them.  Do it privately in hushed tones.  Is stirring the pot, or even raging at a friend or family member (or some random innocent who was invited last minute) going to help anyone, especially you?

8)    If you are in victory over the election, see #7 and do the same.

9)    Maybe sing Kum-bah-yah and mean it.  It just means Come by Here, which is what you did in trusting sacred traditions and the community of family and friends.  Sing it loud.  Sing it proud.  Sing it because you have the freedom to sing in the first place, no matter who you did or didn’t vote for.  Maybe dust off your old Free to Be You and Me album and sing along!  (maybe skip William Has a Doll)

10) And ten…maybe have a dry Thanksgiving to keep the fight, the right, the wrong, the very ugly out of it.  Or heck, if you’re in MA, CA, OR, WA, NV, or CO, pass a joint around.  Oh wait.  Don’t talk about that either.  Stick to the “this is what I love about you” theme.

May we all enjoy peace this holiday season.  Let love and gratitude show us the way.


IMG_0093Peace and love, (and some humor for crying out loud)

Laura

Are you longing to say what you want to say?  Find your voice?  Haven Writing Retreats is now booking for 2017.  Click here for  our calendar!  The gift of voice awaits you in the woods of Montana.

 

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Thanksgiving, the TSA, and Two Cabbies

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few years ago, which captures gratitude under duress.  May we all travel safely, and with GRATITUDE this Thanksgiving holiday!

 

Give the gift of VOICE this holiday season!

Haven Writing Retreats:

February 22-26 (a few spots left!)

Talking about your travel debacles is about as appealing as talking about your dreams. So I’ll be brief. I missed my flight yesterday, late night in Salt Lake City, after two prior flights, en route to Montana where I live. They shut the door in my face. There was crying and swearing involved. One of the lovely things about living in a town with a small airport: they hold the last plane of the evening. They know their passengers have paid their dues in high prices and multiple flights to get to that last leg over the Rockies, which will certainly go bumptey bump in the night. And they’re decent human beings about it. Usually.

This was the day before the busiest travel day in the United States. This was after a week of being gone from my family on a business trip in Miami, which is a great place for a business trip so I’m not complaining. Put it this way, I’m just glad that the biggest Book Fair in the country isn’t in Fargo. But if it had been, I likely wouldn’t have been wearing sandals to lunch earlier that day and I wouldn’t have likely forgotten to change into shoes, which I wouldn’t have likely packed in my roller bag and checked. I wouldn’t have been getting into a cab in a balmy 10 degrees with my homemade pedicure showing, heading to a Comfort Inn. I would have been wearing winter boots. Which would have been a good thing, since the Storm of the Century was inching its way into Utah, according to the Haitian cab driver, who seemed to be less worried about being cold and understandably more worried about things like cholera. I asked him if he had family back in Haiti. “Yes,” he said. I asked him how he dealt with it. “Day by day,” he said.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had a voucher and a room waiting for me and the hope of a metal flying machine taking me home tomorrow. “What time is your flight?” he asked. “Two thirty,” I said. I saw his head shake. “Is there a problem?” I said, afraid. “The storm is coming in right around then. You might be spending Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City.”

I started feeling sorry for myself again. Who was going to make the organic bird with the organic cranberry relish and the gravy that wins my children’s hearts every year even though they’re in their disgruntled teen and pre-teen years? Who was going to turn on the Macy’s Day parade and put the cloves in the oranges and set it in a huge pot of apple cider? Who was going to make sure that classical music resounded through the house while the turkey cooked? Who was going to polish my grandmother’s silver and make sure the good linens found their way to the table for their first of three annual appearances? Would they eat at the kitchen table? Would there be television involved? Would they forget to read Truman Capote’s “Christmas Memory” at the table? Would they say grace?

I was NOT going to spend Thanksgiving in a Comfort Inn in a blizzard in Salt Lake City in my frigging sandals.

But then I remembered–cholera. Homelessness. Haiti. My little family would be just fine without me, truth be told. And if that happened, I would have the opportunity to practice thanks for not shining silver and a legacy in linens, but things like warmth and safety.

The next morning I turned on the Weather Channel. I have an obsession with this station, and I promise myself that I will not watch it prior to airplane travel, as all it does is get me worried. Who am I to know what airplanes can handle in the way of wind sheer and gusts and blizzard conditions and winter storm warnings? But I did it anyway. I watched the damn Weather Chanel for a solid four hours, fretting and updating my Facebook Page, wanting somebody to cyberly hold my hand. Should I stay or should I go? The storm was supposed to hit exactly as I was to leave. The plane would be small. The turbulence would be fierce. Two things I loathe–small planes and turbulence. I would have the chance to practice all that I’ve learned in the way of fear-busting and inner calm. I’d use that I’m-a soldier-being-rescued-from-the-jungle-fronts-by-helicopter frame of mind I’d procured in hours of therapy. I would breathe and I would practice being in the moment in gratitude.

But DAMN. “If there’s one place you don’t want to be in the country today folks, it’s Salt Lake City.” The anchor man was, in fact, standing at the airport holding onto a pole of some sort, grounding himself from the wind.

I went into warrior mode. “I have a date with a bird,” I said out loud. And I got in a cab, the power lines and Christmas decorations blowing above the streets of Salt Lake. This time the driver was from Sudan, Africa. His country divided in war. Half his family back home. “How do you handle it?” I said. “One day at a time,” he said. I’m not kidding. Both cab drivers.

So when I got to the airport and I raised my hands over my head at security in the pose that the media has been ranting and raving about for weeks, I said, “Thank you.” I smiled at the security guy–
“That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “It’s a privilege to fly, after all.”

“We haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “People want to be safe.”

It’s true. People want to be safe. And when we took off into the wind, bumptey bump over the Rockies, I gave my true thanks. I didn’t need a bird on the table to deliver it. Happy Thanksgiving.

(stay tuned for my famous gravy recipe…)

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Memory Lane Monday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (only a few spots left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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As you might have noticed, I resist the formulaic Top Ten lists that are all over the internet, as much as I resist the sound bytes that have become our attention span.  My blog posts are too long and likely too reflective.  But when I started this blog, it was with the express intention of making easy, informal connections with people, without the publishing world as carrier pigeon.  My true love is long form writing– the novel/the memoir, and I am hard at work on three books as I write this post.  That said, when you fall off your horse and bust a few ribs, life reduces itself to the nitty gritty, and it’s worth noting:  It literally goes step by step, and we better be grateful for each one, even though they hurt like hell-fire in our thoracic cavity.  Suddenly, I am finding gratitude for two inches to the left at night in just the right painfree position.  Dodging a sneeze with deep sniffing.  The smell of lavendar oil.  And very ungrateful when the toilet paper roll slips out of my hands and rolls…rolls…rolls…to the other end of the bathroom.  What was last week “another damn trip into town to do errands” when all I wanted was to be in my bed reading and writing during this hiatus between leading writing retreats, maybe taking a little walk…is now something I long for, just like my golden retriever when he’d see our busy purposeful steps to the truck, sure of some sort of adventure that the front porch couldn’t provide.

While these ribs heal, a few minutes on the front porch is all the adventure this body can take, never mind the potholes and washboards of a country road.  And so it brings me back to a Top Ten list I wrote, sort of mocking Top Ten lists, last year that sums up why I love living in my town– this town I can’t wait to re-visit hopefully next week, grateful for the wind in my hair, and a list of errands to do, and even a good old fashioned sneeze.

First, however, perhaps it might be useful to list the top ten possible reasons I fell off my horse and am in this pickle:

To stop working so hard

To feel grateful for tiny things

To stop multi-tasking

To stop letting unfinished projects bother me

To let the piles go

To leave the unpicked up things unpicked up

To make friends with the dust bunnies

To appreciate a firm pillow

To be grateful for a window with a view

To be grateful for people who bring me soup and make me tea

And now…Drum roll….

Ten+ reasons why I live in Whitefish, Montana

September 4, 2015

whitefish

(*note:  You’d think it has to do with skiing and golfing…but it doesn’t.)

Because I can go outside to get something out of my car naked.

Because if the UPS guy drove up while I was getting something out of my car naked, he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

Because I can go into town in the same outfit I slept in and no one would even notice and if they did notice they’d say, “Good for you.”

Because we have old fashioned streetlights with hanging flower baskets on them, an ice cream parlor, a toy store, a hardware store, and a brewery (and a whole lot of other cool locally owned stores and restaurants).

Because when you go to the Post Office, people ask you about your kids by name.

Because the health food store owners know more about my digestive tract than I do.  And they hold my babies when we load the car.  (I love you Rick and Dawn.)

Because we have a Winter Carnival where grown-ups dress up like Vikings and Yetis and Queens and Kings and ride floats and jump into a frozen lake.  And lots of people come to watch and think it’s fun.

Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have.  And nobody really cares, if they do know.

Because we’re all the same in a snow storm.

Because we’re all the same in a forest fire.

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Because we’re all the same when there’s a grizzly bear or a mountain lion on the trail.

Because the Great Northern Railroad comes right through town and I can feel connected to my hometown Chicago, and another favorite old haunt, Seattle.

Because Glacier National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list and for us, it’s an easy answer to the question, “So what do you want to do today?”

Because we believe in our wandering rights and have 26 miles of non-motorized trail meandering through our greenbelt, with more to come. (The Whitefish Trail)

Because we have lakes and rivers all around us.

Because it serves up things to write about daily.

Because we have a Farmer’s Market that everybody goes to, even if it’s hailing.

Because people care about the Arts here, (not just about skiing and golfing).

Because on school field trips, my kids go snow-shoeing, ice-fishing, and skiing.

Because they broadcast the local high school football game at the grocery store.

Because people read the local paper.  That’s all we’ve got, anyway.

Because at Christmas-time, we string the same vintage bells across the street as they used in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is that ten reasons?  I need to drive my kid to school in my pajamas now.  Oh, and I need eggs.  But maybe I’ll just get those from the neighbor’s chickens.

See more about Whitefish, Montana

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Throwback Tuesday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Retreats!

February 22-26
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat,

go to the Contact Us button here.

Dear Reader –

So you know when you want something very very badly?  And you wait and you wait and then finally…it’s a sunny day, and all the great ideas beckon you out into it saying, “You can do this thing, you can be this person you want to be, you can have the life you want…and P.S…it’s not that hard.  Come.”  And so you do.  And it’s with fear and trepidation. But you do it anyway and you feel good about it.  Really good.  And then something happens and you get stuck in an old way of thinking and the fear sets in and suddenly you find yourself on your ass.  In my case, it might have had something to do with a horse and his jig to my jag.  And the consequent fracture to a few key bones making it very hard to sneeze, cough, laugh, clear my throat, breathe.

Well, it gives you pause.  Time to think.  You know what I’m talking about.  That thing that you want so badly is actually something that really scares you and you wonder why you want it so badly– why you’ve set your life up to always be hard.  Like you’re constantly saying to yourself:  “You can take it.  You’re brave enough.  You’re a bad ass.  DO IT.”

Well that’s what I hear in my mind:  A lot.  Sometimes it serves me.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s helped me get through 25 years in Montana.  And it’s sort of getting me through these days laid up in bed, grateful for rolling over two inches, grateful for being able to reach a glass full of water.  It has me wondering about my relationship with personal power.  Maybe we don’t have to be so bad ass.  Maybe being able to get out of bed is a daily miracle.  Maybe this is a blessing, this time to pause.

And reflect on this woman I’ve been in these Montana years.

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In this period of near-motionlessness, I’m grateful for my laptop.  I’m not much in the mood for writing.  More for reflecting on my relationship with personal power and how I get in my own way– my jags to life’s jigs.  So, I’m looking through old blog posts about Montana in the last decade and trying to learn what it is to let yourself off the hook.  Thought I’d re-post a few of them here this week.  Makes sense, given my current state, to begin with one called “Break Me In, Montana.”  I hope you enjoy.

Here’s something that might help you in your own relationship with your personal power:
My affirmation when I went out on my first book tour was, “I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.”

yrs.

Laura

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Break Me In, Montana

May 11, 2009

I begged for this. This house. This land. This time. This husband and these children. I begged to know a place season for season. To use last summer’s spent perennials as winter mulch. To rake it off when the Lenten roses poke through. To know, finally, which one is the North Star, and use it to find my way home. I begged to feel my heart sink with the leaving V’s of geese. And become buoyant again with their return.

I did not know I was begging. All those years in cities. Chicago, New York, Boston, Florence, London, Seattle. I would catch myself in storefront windows and say yes, I am alive. I see myself here in the crowd. In that great outfit. Those fantastic shoes. And return to the apartment with the cockroaches and the blinking answering machine, ready to make my home in some glittering concert hall, some stark white art opening, some hushed mocha-toned new restaurant. I did not know I was begging for this when I dropped to my knees one night at the side of my bed like my grandmother used to, and said, please, please, bring me home.

Three weeks later my husband walked into our brand new Seattle house and said, “I just got a job in Montana. You would be able to write full time. We could have our kids there, and you wouldn’t have to work outside the home.”

So we left.

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  I watched the Cascades until they were little harmless divots in the horizon,    and I cried all through the dry of Eastern Washington and over the pass that  brought me, for the first time, to the Flathead Valley.
Over a hill, and there it was: Flathead Lake to the south, the ski mountain in  Whitefish to the North, the Jewel Basin in front of us drifting off into the Swan and the Mission ranges. The canyon leading to Glacier National Park off to the east. Twin bald eagles riding a thermal over us.
“It feels like a set up,” I said.

I could not receive this place at first. It felt like it had power over me like one of those guru types posing to know you better than you know yourself. More so, it felt like my enemy. The answer to a prayer I never meant to pray. Like it would break me in half if I slacked off for one second. Grizzly bears. Forest fires. Avalanches. Mountain lions. Angry loggers. Angry environmentalists. People dying for and from what I could only perceive as folly—kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, back country skiing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, ice climbing, river rafting…and on and on.

“Let go of the city,” the lovers of this country would say. “Stay. Sit a spell.” No, I secretly schemed. Letting go would mean a betrayal. Of that girl in the shop window.

Instead, I spent many years letting go of Montana. Taking hits off the city in drug-dose proportions. Looking down from my returning flight into our little valley, seeing the outline of the mountains, the five or six farm lights still on, landing, thinking I can do it this time. I can stay. Three months later, I would be up in the sky again, panting over the grid of lights below and the skyscrapers on the horizon beckoning me back.
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Until I had my first child. And the subway so suddenly went villain. The honking cars and heaving bus exhaust and hissing sewers…like land mines. I clung to my baby. I ended up in parks. Grant Park. The Presidio. The Boston Garden. Central Park. The Arboretum. Leaving the city windows to another girl’s self-fascination. Then I would hover over our little valley with the landing gear descending, see the half-dozen little lights below, the moonlit ranges, and begin to find thanks.

It occurred to me then, that letting go was not a leaving. But a climbing in. A yes. I proclaimed that yes. At first quietly. Ashamed. Then louder. Then so I didn’t know the difference between yes, and living.

Fifteen years. Dog sled racers, endurance riders, snowcat operators, medicine women, stunt pilots. Grizzly trackers, loggers, bowhunters. Helicopter nurses, heart surgeons, brewers and preschool teachers. Electric company cherry pickers, and Flathead cherry growers. Pizza parlor proprietors and organic farmers. Cowboys. Rodeo queens. Horse whisperers. Blacksmiths. Piano tuners. Cross dressers. Quilters. DJ’s, hot dog vendors, mule packers. Vietnam Vets. Ski bums. Fly-fishing guides, bartenders, computer programmers, train conductors. Double Phds that live in their car and grift at the pool hall for food money. Wives who live to hunt. Husbands who live to cook their wives’ kill.

I still have not been mauled by a grizzly bear. Still have not even seen a mountain lion. Have only come upon the aftermath of forest fire…and found a bounty of mushrooms there. Montana never broke me in– like a cowboy who thinks it needs to break the mare’s spirit to gain respect. I was never that mare. It was never that cowboy.

Instead, it was there all that time– in purple Alpine glow and sparkling wide rivers, in the sight of my child’s fingers on a trout belly, the safe back of an old horse lakeside in August, dipping its neck down and drinking slow sips of glacial run-off, in soft rains and misting meadows, anthills and golden Larch, in the little white farm lights and moonlit snowy peaks– it was there, all that long sweet time…welcoming me home.

 

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