Tag Archives: community

Heart Language

heart_houseHappy Valentines Day to you all from the heart of my home to yours.

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No Black Friday

Now Booking for February Haven Retreat!
I like to re-visit this post every year on this day:


I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with a central square flanked by shoulder-to-shoulder shops in brick and tudor. A fountain on one end, a Parthenon shaped department store on the other, a park with grass and benches and a flagpole in-between. My goldfish met its maker in that fountain because I thought it a better life than the one he’d been living in a small bowl on my windowsill. I met my best friend at that fountain every day before school and ate donuts from the local bakery sitting on the side of it. I had a kiss or two in the dark at that fountain. I climbed that flagpole on a dare. I believed in the spirit of Christmas standing in that park, looking into the illumination of the crèche each December. We called it Uptown and it was an iconic yet controlled kingdom to us, the Downtown of Chicago being so vast and distant. My house was close to Uptown, and after school every day, I walked my dog around its streets, memorizing every alleyway, every store window, smiling at the familiar faces of the shopkeepers who knew my family, our names, our stories.

In those days, many families had charge accounts at the stores. So sometimes, I’d get permission to go on little shopping sprees, charging stickers and pens at the stationary store, ribbons at the dimestore, Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers at the drugstore, an album at the record store, a bike bell at the sports store, seeds at the hardware store for my vegetable garden. We had nicknames for these stores like old friends. They were our meeting places. Our stomping ground. Our stage. When my father died, the local grocery store gave us a cart full of groceries for free once they heard the news. These shops were the bones of our goings on as a community. Not because they represented greed or even commerce to us. They were the places where our mothers ran into each other and gossiped and wondered and pontificated. They were the places where we flirted with boys, dreamed up birthday parties, found the right words for a grieving aunt, played truth or dare over an ice cream sundae. A lot of these shops are gone now. Now the shoe store is a Williams Sonoma. The corner store is a Talbots. The hardware store is a True Value but it’s at least still there, even with a Home Depot lurking in the not-so-distance. I’m proud of the way my hometown values its local shops and supports them, even with so much bright-light-big-city so close.

Now I live in another small town, this one rural and full of economic hardship. I watch as the shop owners struggle to make ends meet and keep their doors open. I know most of them the way I knew my hometown shop owners. I watched as they took their vision and made it a reality. I see their pride because in our small mountain community, these shops hold deep importance. There is no option of city. People drive a long way to stock up on feed for their animals, paint for their barns, winter socks for their kids. Not long ago I was proud to say we didn’t have a Gap in the state of Montana. Or a Target, a Best Buy, a Home Depot, a Lowe’s, a Costco. That’s changed now. It’s here. Consumption Junction we call it. And it’s killing our local small businesses.

I see the store owners’ worry. All their money wrapped up in keeping their store running even if it’s barely paying the bills. I picture Central Ave. being one day like a ghost town of the old West, tumbleweed and all, the bars surviving because people will always drink away their woe. The churches surviving because people will always need to pray in public, knowing they’re not alone. But then I also picture a time when the box store will die. Our greed for unnecessary plastic items will fade if not devour us. We’ll stop filling up our shopping carts until they are brimming over when all we came for was…well, winter socks. And maybe things will return to the old ways. And people will live off the land. And buy only what they need and only when they can afford it. And barter for what they can’t afford. I picture a time when a person with sheep has profound power, shearing them and spinning their fleeces, and a person who knows how to work a forge is the reason why transportation is possible, horses needing shoes and meaning business—not just decoration or a vehicle of recreation. And the Farmer’s Market will be more than a sunny place to listen to a singer/songwriter and buy a hula hoop along with your Swiss chard.

There is a road called Farm-to-Market here in Montana where I live. It’s a pretty Sunday drive. When I take that road, I think about how it once was a bloodline for this community. Blood sport. Many broken hearts along its fences. Countless dashed dreams and false hopes. The kind of road where you sort out what you’re going to say to your wife when you come back with a full cart, someone else’s tomato crop being what it was. It’s not that I defy modern technology or progress or the possibilities of button pushing. It’s that I don’t trust us to know what to do with what we’ve created. I trust humility more than greed. And as much as I love that I get welcomed into Walmart and love that I can get winter socks for my kids and Swiss chard both and still get back in time to pick them up from school, as much as I know that those are local people working those jobs, in honesty and humility with dreams of their own, sorting out their own stories to tell their spouses…I want us to stop.

I want us to go to the local hardware store and eat a bag of popcorn while we discuss paint color and drill bits and talk weather while we do it. And what about that school bond and what about that new city councilman? I want us to drop our spare change into the Mason jar to help with the Nelson girl who has Leukemia. I want us to go slowly again. I want us to wonder about each other. I want us to ask, “How’s business?” and hear that it picked up this October, which is usually a slow time—better than last year. To nod and smile at that good news and feel like we’re going to be okay. We won’t lose our hats along with our dreams.

This holiday season, I want us to stop. Not take our turkey hangovers to the early morning, standing at a Target ready to run in like monkeys on a zoo break. I want us to continue the gratitude of the day before. I want us to sleep in and maybe take a walk into town later to see what the local shops have for sale. I want us to have those conversations. I want us to go Uptown instead of Downtown and especially I want us to steer clear of Consumption Junction. Even if it costs a bit more. Even if it is a little less shiny. Even if it means we buy less, or go to three stores to find that one thing our kid asked for. I want us to stroll down Central Avenue. And say hi to each other. I want us to be thankful for our town squares and our backyard businesses and see ourselves in the reflection of their holiday windows.

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Haven August 2013

portrait

2014 (Now Booking!)

February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

When this Haven group left, there were tears, new friendships; there was transformation, fierce self-expression, and most of all community.  We need community, especially in our creative pursuits.  I want you to look at these pictures.  I want you to imagine giving yourself your dreams, despite what your inner critic says, or your friends and family for that matter.  Take a stand for what you believe in.  What you want.  What you want to create!  And if that sparks a desire to come to Haven…DO IT FOR YOURSELF!  In the minute of the spark…is the flame.  Come burn.  yrs. Laura

Here’s what a few of my last retreaters wrote about their Haven experience.

Click here  and here and here.

Yes

It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

(with thanks to Lorrie…and all the  Haven brave and beautiful souls.  Thank you for your enormous YES!)  This is for you.

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Maybe I Understand Grace Now

Haven Retreat in Montana:

August 7th-11th (now booking)

September 4th-8th (now booking)

September 18th-22nd (full with a wait list)

 swirl

Well, another Haven retreat has passed and I am in that zone again. It’s somewhere between having watched a miracle and wanting more. It’s the place where lofty words like grace and awe and wonder and purity come from. We played. We became more aware of our best selves. And maybe our worst selves. We honored and supported each other. We broke through. We belly-laughed. We are home now. Me included.
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Back to bills and emails and kids not really caring that we just found transformation because they need new shoes, and bosses who are kinda like: yeah…great. Did you join a cult or something? You have a look in your eye that I’m not exactly sure will go over well at our next annual meeting. Whatever.

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After breakfast on the last day, we say goodbye to people that just four days ago were total strangers, and Them, and Better than, or Afraid of, or Worse than…and are now family. It happens every time. We become community. We have been through something together and we are better for it. Maybe healed. Definitely inspired. Braver for sure.

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And after everybody leaves, I lie on my stomach on the dock and swirl my finger in the water, sending out ripples for each person, naming them, one by one, sending them off to their lives from the ranch in Montana to wherever they will land. Watching as the ripples go out and out until they become lake and settle into the world of nature, purpose, intention, mindfulness, reverberation of heart language.

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This time, I told the group that I would be doing this ritual on their behalf. And I got a note the last morning from one of the retreaters. She said, “Read this before you go to the dock.” And I did. They all went off and I heaved a deep breath, fighting tears, feeling joy…and read her note. It thanked me and Haven and Montana and the ranch and the group. And it gave me this challenge: when I swirled out my God-speed, I was to feel it coming back to me. I wondered if I would be able to do that. I readied myself, and I went to the dock. Lay on my stomach. Put my finger in. Swirled and sent for each of these dear, brave, creative sisters.
dock

And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, on an otherwise still day, a breeze came through, across the lake. And just as the first ripple touched the other side of the lake, launching…the ripples came back to me. Until they squalled over and disappeared. And a loon flew over. And I felt perhaps one of the most complete acts of love I’ve known. Thank you to you all. I love you.

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Five Nice Things

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It’s 3:00 in the morning and for some reason I can’t sleep.  That never happens to me.  There is so much going on in my mind that I just have to write it out and then hopefully get back to bed.  My dear friend Jennifer Schelter said something to me yesterday that has my mind spinning.  She said, “Why do people resist joy?”  She’s the founder of Mindful Strategies for Living and a fabulous yoga instructor and life coach.  In her daily work she sees people striving for happiness, but stuck.  “Everybody takes everything so seriously.  What’s wrong with sitting down and eating a big piece of chocolate cake?” she said.  “Where’s the joy?”

It’s a good question.  So I took her question on a field trip as I went through my day.  At a baseball game, in the local café, at the ranch where I hold my writing retreats, at the grocery store, out for dinner…I listened to people with this central question in mind:  where is the joy?  Specifically I listened to the answer to the question:  “how are you?”  I didn’t hear, “Great!”  I heard, “Oh, hanging in there.”  “Okay.”  I even heard, “Still alive.”  A few times I heard groans, and once I heard no reply at all.  I’ve decided the question “How are you” has been infected.  And it’s messing with our joy.

I have a foreign exchange student here from Sweden this year, and the first week, as she was processing our cultural ticks, she asked me, in all honesty, “Laura, in this country, when you get asked How are you are you supposed to answer?  Because it doesn’t really feel like people are asking a question.  They say  it like a statement.”

And I thought about it and started paying attention.  She was dead on.  Almost half the time, people ask “How are you” as a greeting, not as a real question.  It made me self-conscious, because I usually answer truthfully and at length.  Which probably makes me a pain in the rear end in the grocery check-out line.  Oh well.  All the world’s a stage, right?   But how am I contributing to this “resistance to joy” that my life coach friend talked about yesterday by swirling around in the longer version of, “still alive?” by giving examples of what’s hard in my life– rather than what’s wonderful in my life?  Our answers to “how are you” help influence the general pulse of the human heart and our society at large.  I want to start saying, “Great” even on a crappy day.  Because there is something great about even a crappy day and why not think about that!  It just plain feels better.  I want to feel better.  I need to remind myself to see what’s “great” in my life and spread that around town.  (And sure– at length because that’s the way I fly.  Sorry, grocery line.)  It’s almost a social responsibility, really.  Community service.  Spreading the joy.

Here’s another question we get asked in passing that has turned into a joy suck:  “What do you do?” which we usually translate into “what do you do for work” and answer accordingly.  “I’m a writer.”  Or “I’m a stay at home mom.”  Or “I’m in the technology field.”  We take the verb to do and assign it the meaning of job occupation.  Which is our societal currency.  We’re used to filling in that slot like robots.  Sometimes it hatches a conversation.  But often, it doesn’t.  We hear crickets.  Or get a glazed-over nod.  And we walk away feeling pinned like a bug in a science project. I met somebody recently who calls herself a loveologist.  I think the next time somebody asks me what I do…I might just reply with that and see what happens.

I’ve never been a fan of that question, probably because for a long time, the answer to it was:  “a writer” and for a long time I didn’t get paid for being a writer, so as far as society went…I wasn’t really “allowed” to call myself a writer.  I was supposed to answer what I did to make money.  And so the answer was anything from “a nanny,” to “a barista,” to “a bartender,” to “a flower delivery girl.”  (I ALWAYS said “writer” anyway, by the way, for those writers out there!  You must!)  So I changed the question. I ask people a different question, upon meeting them.  I ask, “What do you like to do?”  Every time their eyes brighten up and they tell me their joy.  Sometimes, yes, it has to do with their occupation.  But usually it doesn’t, which is a sad statement about our society in its own right.  Around here, in Montana, the answer is often, “ski,” or “ride horses,” or “hike in the mountains.”  Try it sometime.  It’s much more fun than “what do you do?”  I want to see the light in people and I know it’s in there.  Don’t you?

I want to see the joy.  And I want to find mine, even in the most mundane moments.  I know it’s in the way I think.  And if the last hour lying in bed, thought after thought whipping through my mind, weed-whacking my joy into shredded bits of tax, and bills, and teens, and mortgage, and career compost all over the otherwise lovely prospect of my sweet dreams…I simply know there is another way.  So I stopped my thoughts.  I actually sat up in bed and said, “stop.”  And then I gave myself a challenge:  think of five things you like about yourself.  It was hard.  It spun another half an hour or so of self-flagellation.  Because every time I thought of something, I weed-whacked it.  “You’re a good mother” quickly turned to “I haven’t taken my daughter to visit enough colleges yet and she’s going to be a senior this fall” and “you didn’t read enough with your son when he was little and now he watches too much TV.”  Ugh.  Five things you like about yourself, Laura.  Finally, I got three and called it good.  Three positive, thoughts about myself to stabilize and soak in, without whacking them.  And interestingly, in order to do it, I had to think of myself from the perspective of the little girl I once was.  She told me:  You’re a good cook.  You’re funny.  You eat chocolate cake without apology. 

We have to re-train ourselves back to that child in us who joyfully woke up to the possibility of the day.  Who loved herself.  Whose goal was to play.  And be joyful in it.  When you wake up tomorrow and see this blog post, take a moment and try it.  Think of five things you like about yourself.  Or maybe three.  But please…at least one.  And hold it close all day, saying it over and over to yourself.  And when you’re in that grocery line, and someone asks you, “How are you,” think about that thing…and say, “I’m great.”  Because you are.

I’m going back to bed now for what I hope will be sweet dreams.

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Welcome Spring!

 

 

 

 

2013 Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (full– wait list)
August 7th-11th (now booking)
September 4th-8th (now booking)
September 18th-22nd (now booking)

Thank you for my winter haven respite, wherein I gave over These Here Hills to you, worked on a book, and watched from afar while you created community in your blog entries and beautifully rich interactions.  It was a joy to think that community can happen whether or not face to face.  It can be word to word.  Congratulations to Darla Bruno for winning the contest!  She is the recipient of a scholarship to my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana!  I will be back now at These Here Hills and look forward to sharing with you here.

Some people object to social media.  They say it is not a real community.  Well I just recently did an hour live chat with Book Trib and I loved every minute of it.  I might be a talking head on an awkward laptop camera, and I might be alone in my office answering questions typed in from participants, but in this format…there is still community.  Something happens when we make ourselves available to question and answer whether in person or not.  Thank you Book Trib, and to those who participated!  For those of you who didn’t catch it, here you go.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #28

These trees keep watch like three ancestors, believing that I can write this book, even when I wonder...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I love how we can touch who we are in the faces and hearts of our forebears.  Please enjoy this lovely piece from Michelle Roberts. 

yrs. Laura

Freckle-faced Filipino, by Michelle Roberts

“Ah que linda!”, Mara squealed as she stepped through the front door putting her warm, plump hands on my freckled cheeks.

My mother told me it meant “oh, how pretty” but it didn’t help me get over my pale skin and strawberry blond hair. Strawberry blond because kids teased little girls with red hair and my mother specifically said mine was the most beautiful shade of strawberry blonde. “Women would kill to have your hair color but you just can’t get it in a bottle”, was her way of comforting me.

I was born in 1970 at Cape Canaveral Hospital smack in the middle of the sunshine state. Even though I grew up in Florida I never once managed to get a tan. A day at the beach meant I’d burn, sunscreen or not. By afternoon I was red as a lobster, peeling a few days later and then white again with nothing to show for it but a few extra freckles.

My grandfather was from the Philippines with dark hair and olive skin. Even though he was in his late seventies when we moved in after my parents divorced, he always had lovely Latin ladies visiting him. I envied their dark complexion and thick black hair. Mara was a regular and brought him food, shared stories and rolled her R’s even when laughing. His was the first stable, calm home I could remember and I relished the routine of dinner served every day at exactly 5:30pm. He wasn’t exactly affectionate but a man who tended to his plants every morning before most people got out of bed had a kind heart whether or not he’d admit it. The neighborhood kids were scared of him because he yelled from his front porch when they took a short cut through his flower beds. My mother used to say that he’d mellowed with age. None of my friends would believe it.

It must have been difficult to have three young children move in after retiring but we always felt welcome. My problem was that I never really felt like I fit in. The adults often spoke Spanish to keep their conversations from little ears. Especially my mother and her twin sister who talked so fast Spanish lessons probably wouldn’t have helped. I loved to hear the story about how she learned to speak the language out of necessity as a little girl. When my grandfather married his second wife from Cuba my mother made so many trips to the corner store to buy a sack of sugar? No. Flour? No. She was tired of the store owner shrugging his shoulders and finally taught herself how to decipher her new step-mother’s pantomime.

My grandfather immigrated from the Philippines in 1925 through the port of Seattle and worked for a year in Detroit while living with his uncle, the first of the Owano clan to make the trip across the ocean. He later moved to Chicago where he studied to become a doctor and met my grandmother at a party. A tall, gorgeous blonde with men buzzing all around her, she didn’t notice the handsome man of modest height who kept refilling her glass and fetching her food. She gave her number to another man and my grandfather memorized it. When I asked him what he thought when he met her he admitted, “My children would be tall.” He never became a doctor but they raised five children on his salary as a porter on the Pullman trains.

So it was my grandmother’s height and fair skin and her mother’s strawberry blond hair that I inherited so many years later. The Filipino relatives that visited over the years found humor in meeting their first freckle-faced Filipino. I grew up hearing tales of the huge parties the Owanos threw for family visiting from the United States.

“You’d be treated like royalty the moment you stepped off the plane,” my mother used to tell me. “They’d roast whole pigs and serve eight course meals in your honor especially since you are so fair skinned. The women in the Philippines shield themselves from the sun so their skin doesn’t get too tan.”

Years later when I moved to Washington, DC, after college my grandfather was the first to warn me about the murder capital of the country. He jotted down the address of a cousin who lived in Maryland and I dutifully wrote it in my address book. I wasn’t the shy girl that lived with him as a child but I knew I’d never pick up the phone to call on a relative I’d never met. My college roommate and I were sharing an apartment with another friend in Virginia and moving to a new city without jobs or even prospects. He had every right to worry.

But somehow we managed. I worked a couple of jobs through temp agencies until I was hired by a downtown trade association. The first thing I did when I got medical coverage was flip through the providers list to find a dentist. I made an appointment for the following week with an office that listed Filipino under “languages spoken”. I was hoping she was the hygienist and a mention of my grandfather might spare me the usual lecture about never flossing.

When I went to my new patient appointment I asked them who in the office was from the Philippines. They told me one of the hygienists was working toward her certification and should be there when I returned for my cleaning.

The day of my cleaning I recognized her accent right away. There’s something about the way Filipino’s pronounce their n’s and g’s that reminds me of the smell of my grandfather’s adobo and hours spent in his kitchen.

“You must be from the Philippines.” I said to the woman preparing the instruments for my hygienist.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“My grandfather is from Cebu,” as I waited for her surprise.

“I am from Cebu.” Most people I met would say they were from Manila or tell me they had visited Cebu.

“My grandfather is an Owano.” I was used to locals recognizing his family name since many relatives held political offices and owned land.

“I am an Owano!” By this time the woman trying to clean my teeth was looking back and forth between us, mouth agape.

“Really? Well, my grandfather lives in Florida.”

“Not Bern?”

“That’s my grandfather, Bern Owano.” Now the hygienist was laughing in disbelief.

Joanna, explained that on her first trip to the United States her mother Bernadette stopped in Florida to visit my grandfather and bring him packages. They were cousins and she was named after my grandfather because they shared the same birthday. Joanna insisted that I come to dinner to meet our other cousins. By the time I left the appointment she’d made all the arrangements and gave me her phone number and the address for dinner on Sunday evening.

Sunday I drove to the suburbs of Maryland and to the very same address my grandfather wrote down for me three years earlier. It was the home of an older cousin whose nanny opened the door, took one look at me and, puzzled, called upstairs in Tagalog. All I could make out was the word “Americana”. She invited me in and explained that Joanna had gone to the Metro to pick up some other relatives.

Over the next few hours I was greeted by almost two dozen new relatives who dropped everything to be there. They brought food, introduced me to their children and took out copies of the Owano family tree. They explained that their own grandfather was the uncle my grandfather lived with in Detroit. They all felt so deeply indebted to both men for paving the way for their families to be educated in the United States. This room full of doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants was so excited to meet Bern Owano’s granddaughter.

They explained that my grandfather’s grandfather had two wives and that most of them were descendants of the first wife while I was a descendant of the second. And at one point when they were raising their voices in Tagalog I asked them what it was about.

“Oh, she’s just bragging because now she has a tall blonde on her side of the family,” Joanna pointed to another cousin from wife number two.

Another relative laughed because he had arrived late and thought I must be a American friend of their cousin. He was still patiently waiting to meet her.

That night was my first visit to my grandfather’s homeland and my first roasted pig. They welcomed me like royalty and admired my fair complexion. Somehow the universe brought me to the very place my grandfather wanted me to be. With my Filipino family, my Owano clan, in a big city that seemed like our own little island.

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #27

 

Amazing how a wheelbarrow full of wood can mean the difference between life and death, never mind comfort. Mindful living beats button pushing any time.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

It’s amazing how the simple things bring happiness when we’re brave enough to stop and pay attention.  Please enjoy this lovely piece by Katie Andraski.  yrs. Laura

 

How the Teacher Introduced Herself to her Class on The Joy Diet Or The Teacher Writes About The Happiest Time of Her Life , by Katie Andraski

 

This happy time I’m in now, started with a pot of soup three years ago. It’s been the longest, most consistent time I’ve been happy. My husband, Bruce, and I had just driven five hours from Albany to Bath, Maine. We’d almost bought it three times when semis merged into our lane with us in it. Our nerves were shot. And we were headed for our second family, the Proctors.

I’ve known them since I could think. Gene has told the story that she met my mother when my brother started kindergarten and met her son Bruce. I had to be two, so I’m not kidding about how long I’ve known them.

There are all kinds of stories I could tell you about the Proctors. Martha Beck’s descriptions about how doing nothing can be a frightening exercise because “if you have suffered greatly and not yet resolved your pain, you may find it literally unbearable to become physically still, the moment you really quiet your body, you’ll feel the monsters of unprocessed grief, rage, or fear yammering at the dungeon doors of your unconscious mind” reminds me of my own resistance to taking up Buddhism. Bruce Proctor had challenged me to look into it, but the weird visions a person might see while sitting seemed too close to the demons I didn’t want to welcome into my life. Bruce Proctor literally did nothing for hours on end, days at a time. Sitting practice. I saw him move from a jiggly would-be rock star who couldn’t keep his legs or his eyes still to a man with a calm presence. It was as profound a conversion as I ever saw. Though to be truthful I saw him blast right past that to seeing auras on trees and gremlins hopping in branches and hearing Jesus’ voice. It was creepy how he’d sit on the love seat and weave like a cobra. He’d walked from Paris, Maine to Albany, New York by himself, following old rail beds. He had hooked up with the outfit in Boulder that became known for its excesses and sexual abuse during those years. Eventually he found his way to the Zen Center of New York. Now he photographs his visions using the light and shadow of desert landscapes and junkyards.

I could tell you about Ron Proctor sitting behind me in eighth grade because Proctor came right after Pauley, and he’d kick my chair and call me The Beast. But I was vindicated when I saw what he wrote in Donna Wright’s yearbook how she should be more like me. He is drop dead gorgeous and never been married. One year we were visiting his parents, and he took us to Pemaquid Point, the site of a well-photographed lighthouse where I imagined riding a brown horse along the rocks and into the sea.

He borrowed a skiff and took us to the Kennebec River fishing. The Bath Ironworks are awesome anytime you see them, but we were down in the river looking at sparks bright enough to blind us. Cranes big enough to tower over a naval frigate frightened me; they were so big. Hell, all that iron swept up like cliff faces frightened me. Somehow a hull that is halfway made is more awesome than a finished one. Is it the emptiness that makes it so big? My husband pulled a striped bass as big as he was out of the river. And the water was alive with chop and the amber colors of sunset.

These are men who I fell in love with as a young girl. Bruce Proctor as much as anyone inspired me to write and to think. Ron was my gorgeous classmate. I tried to convert them both to evangelical Christianity in these wonderful arguments about faith and atheism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism. My prayers and Bible readings around them shaped me into the kind of Christian I am, someone not so sure the hellfire preachers of my childhood told the truth. Oh I’d cry they’d come to know Jesus because hell was real as the gravel road and night I walked into. Then the Bible started to speak mysterious things about God not willing anyone should perish, about how praying in God’s will would make it so. So if I prayed for Bruce and Ron, even their whole family to know Jesus, than it was in God’s will, and they’d come to know him. They’d be saved. Don’t ask me how free will plays into this. I don’t know.

The apostle Paul himself talks about the Judeo-Christian mythology—Adam bringing death into the world–universal death that none of us escapes. Then the mystery—Jesus brings life and resurrection to the world, more so than Adam. None of us escapes. As far as I know neither one knows the Lord in the traditional evangelical sense I was thinking of as a kid.

Even after my father tried to talk Bruce into Christ, he’d lean back and say, “I don’t know about that. but you’re my second family,” which flipped when my parents and brother died and suddenly the Pauleys weren’t a family and the Proctors became my second family. It was Bob and Gene who took in my husband, Bruce, and I, giving us a second shot at the kind of love parents give—the pot of soup waiting at the end of a long day kind of love.

The wind had caught the sea at Birch Point, and the water was amber and the wind caught us as we got out of the car, whipping our shirts with enough chill that I didn’t want to walk out to the point. But my beloved Bruce settled himself as the wind and the waves blustered around him as joyously as a barking golden retriever.

Bob and Gene weren’t going to be home when we arrived because they had a wedding to attend. There was a slow cooker of vegetable soup and a pan of chocolate cake, and a Post It note telling us to eat up and enjoy. Which is what Bruce and I did. We took our bowls to the table and looked out their window at the amber light and point jutting across the way with a dock floating at high tide. Opposite us was a lobster boat tied to a buoy. We stared out the window hoping to see the funnels of the Scotia Princess below the horizon as the ship plied her way from Portland to Halifax. On the window ledge was a carved wooden fisherman, a wire hanging down, a line into the air, a line into water.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around themselves. That empty space where people live and move and have their being. The Proctors’ house is bigger than it looks even though it’s built on the foundation of a cabin, Maine’s rules for building on the coast, holding the Proctors to that space. It’s full of nooks and crannies with little things Gene has found at garage sales and flea markets here and there. When I’m there, I delight in looking at the dish full of sea glass, delight in the glass frog I sent one Christmas. I sit in the covered easy chairs, staring at the wooden ships and grandfather clock standing straight like a tall person who doesn’t have to stoop, standing tall under the cathedral ceiling, the moon in its face.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around their guests—two bathrobes hung on hooks in the bedroom, and orange juice on the front porch, the ocean as glassy and quiet as it was chopped the night before, the air balmy.  Gene has stepped into a mother’s role, taking me shopping at Renys, a Maine department store or buying me a necklace and earrings because that’s what moms do for daughters. Bob has told stories of when he worked as a civil engineer in Alaska and New York, family stories that don’t belong to me because I didn’t grow up with them, but stories that welcomed us to the hearth. They have welcomed us into a solitary space and listened when we’ve needed counsel for our lives. And they have delighted in the gifts we’ve sent, the bulb garden that bloomed in January adding color to the front window, and the black raspberry jam Bruce made from wild bushes in the field across the street.

There’s something about simple loving hospitality that helped put me in my skin after a hard, hard winter that was as close to a dark night of the soul as I’ve come, that began with a sentence small as a lemon twist from relatives I wanted to visit, saying in essence, you’re family, but not for Christmas, not even the Christmas right after September 11, when I wanted to touch my own blood. Amazing how a sentence can twist open a whole bottle of loneliness.

It didn’t help to be reading the classic by St. John of the Cross, wishing I wouldn’t go through a dark night of the soul. But sure enough I did. The details aren’t important—my beloved cousin died, my students didn’t come to my classes, my writing turned me inside out so much so that I felt like an emotional burn patient thinking nobody wanted to be my friend I was so dark–but what is important is how one seems to go with the other—mourning shall last for the night, but a shout of joy will come in the morning.

And somehow that pot of soup and cake and wind tossed evening changed everything. Somehow Gene and Bob throwing their arms around us, saying, “It’s so good to see you” stopped the rule of darkness in my life. Stopped it dead in its tracks. Everything flipped, and I found joy and light and quiet in the simplest of things. And the people I felt were far away suddenly drew near on their own, without me doing anything. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it all hinges on a cup of water or should I say a pot of soup.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #25

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Saving the Community/World by Angelika Bowerman

When I was a little girl growing up in Germany my mother taught each of us kids how precious life is.  We had a small apartment with a balcony and I remember my mom putting out small pieces of cheese and bread for the birds, especially in cold winter times. There were many times that we tried to nurse a sick or almost dead bird back to life but most of the time they died. This instilled in me a sense of wanting to preserve life and to do my part in preserving the environment around me. One of my favorite things to do is to hike in forests or walk a beach appreciating with all of my senses-seeing and hearing my beautiful surroundings.

Appreciating nature makes me an environmentalist of sorts but mostly with my heart. Mind you I help people in my day job but “saving the world” has been a heartfelt passion of mine and I want to find ways to contribute. What I do is I support a handful of agencies that do just that, they are working to save the world.  My favorite such agency is the Nature Conservancy.  I have been a member for several years and enjoy hearing about all the work I do through my measly contributions.  Over the years many articles have made me smile and I feel really good to be in support of such an awesome organization.  The article “The Missing Link” from the 2012 #4 magazine has especially inspired me and I wanted to share these feelings with others. I feel admiration for the vision of the projects, the human initiative and how this inspires me, the individual, to action.

My admiration is endless when I read how the project manager plans the project of protecting the California Connection so that this ecological corridor  will connect with vast ecosystems to the east, west, north and  south. I admire how he and his team actually see the whole picture of conservancy and sustainability of the land. Each time the Nature Conservancy buys a portion of land, they are making a difference not only locally but for our planet Earth and this is mind blowingly amazing to me. The collaboration that takes place by working with landowners, ranchers and conservation groups is short of making miracles happen in my eyes.

The  result of that this project shows Project director E.J. Remson and his team able to secure a corridor of 50 miles of the Tehachapi range in California for conservation and yet improve conditions for cattle operation. The conservationists not only saved this area from construction of more housing projects and development but with their efforts left behind a sustainable community that will leave the land much less abused and open to wildlife. It takes people that take their passion, their talents and their initiative to start a project from the bottom with an idea and spin it into the actual  possibilities.

The initiative of such individuals as E. J. Remson can actually change the way things have been done for a long time.  The cattle ranches in the area of Tehachapi  have been ranched for generations.  Typically cattle graze near a river for water and this area gets easily overgrazed.  The Conservancy helped build water towers across the range to have cattle graze more evenly throughout the land. This not only protects the Ranches but is a crucial wildlife corridor for migratory species.  These special projects inspire me do my part to preserve what I can.

My personal inspiration shows in my back yard; it is a natural sanctuary with tree trunks, berry bushes and big trees that many birds, butterflies and other critters enjoy. I share this little piece of heaven with others that can sit with me on my deck watching the birds around us.

I feel that I am making a difference in a minor but important and steady way.

So while I am not really “changing the world,” I can congratulate myself in doing my portion by supporting an agency that affects major change. I,on the other hand, will read about the awesome and inspiring projects that I support with my heart.

This article on saving the Tehachapi Corridor is in line with what I consider helping a community and saving the world, one project at a time. What started many years ago with my mother affecting her environment is now my firm belief that I must do what I can in my lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #24

 

I love how fences finally break down, and the human heart runs in the field, without boundaries. That's what writing feels like to me.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

This lovely piece makes me want to grab every one of my mothers and fathers through the ages and say:  Thank you, Sonia Krivacic for this gem.  yrs. Laura

First day of High School, by Sonia Krivacic

An act of great humility is entrusting your child to another. Today, as I drive my daughter to High School for her first day I am filled with so many emotions, I reminisce about the first day I lay eyes on my beautiful daughter, I think of her birth-mother who entrusted me, with such humility, with this beautiful, intelligent, sensitive being. I wished she could see her daughter today dressed up in her High School uniform, all fussed upon by me (do those earrings comply with school code?), looking like the young lady she has become. And I thank her birth-mother again for giving me the gift of experiencing a child growing each day, for the gift of loving this precious child until my heart may burst. I thank, too, our community for having the structures in place to provide for its children.

I cast my mind back to my first day of High School and think of how different it was. In those days we seemed so much older and more self-sufficient. I made my own way to school (after packing my own cut lunch) with the only friend that came from my primary school, Petra. This lovely friend of mine, whom I spent many happy days with playing at school, sitting next to in class and sharing stories of what we would do in High School. My school was nothing like the Catholic girls school I’ve just entrusted my daughter to for the next six years. But I think community and society was different then too. We are so involved. We are ‘new millennium mothers’, wanting our stamp on the world… often living vicariously through our children.

In the 70’s our families were bigger, our houses smaller, the need was greater and the ‘real’ time available was much less. Now, we busy ourselves with activities revolving around our children: soccer, netball, physical culture, piano, folk dancing and the list goes on! Also, we are women of the post-feminist era so having a perceived ‘identity’ outside of the home is also considered a gift by those who went before us. We are educated and far better off. So we are busy, working, raising busy children and running a busy household.

What is the antidote to this? Have we gone too far? Is too much of our ‘identity’ contained in busy-ness for busy-ness sakes? My recent trip to Europe and Africa showed me a different story, one closer to that of our own community of the 60’s and 70’s, and strangely something moved within me.

In Europe, we stayed with family in Croatia, a young nation still finding its feet. After years of war and horror in the 90’s this beautiful country was finally on steadier ground. Like so many countries of its generation faced with demise of the USSR and communism, it had a great battle ahead. Not just for freedom and independence, this was just the beginning. But the necessity to establish a political system, a government, income for the nation, industry for the people, maintain some form of social security and importantly, international respect. Over a decade later, they are hit with the realities of the free market system: interest rate increases burdening families, the Eurozone crisis and their own internal political corruption. In many ways, this part of the world is entering its own ‘High School’ years.

How has the local community faced these challenges in this part of Eastern Europe? The consistent traits I saw were resilience and still some hope. No one had ‘everything’ they needed (perceived or otherwise) and yet they all managed. Each of the extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins and so on) had something to offer the other. From vegetables or fruit from the farm, to loaning some small amount of money, to an offer of time so mothers could stay back at work and earn a little more to help pay some of the unforeseen debts. The country, a little like teenage children, seeing the realities of debt for the first time, the understanding of international economics and how these forces affect their everyday lives. Studies have shown that this model of community, where people still need each other, but do not lack basic necessities, function the best.

When I look back to my High School days, I realize my mother needed me to be resilient, for there were seven of us in our family home. My mother returned to work, not because she was fulfilling her life’s ambitions, but because our financial circumstances meant we needed the money. My mother would work all day in the home, and then leave me with the evening shift whilst she, my sister and brother-in-law cleaned the local school. Clearly this was not a decision of choice for my family. As a thirteen year old, I thought little of washing the evening dishes, settling my dad with his beer on the couch to rest after work, putting my three-year old brother to bed, bathing and feeding my beautiful five-week old niece and then some time in the late evening retreating to my room to do my homework.

It’s only when I look back now do I realize how different community and family life is. I look at my daughter and wonder how she would have coped with these circumstances. I then go deeper and look at the beautiful children I met in Africa. The gut-wrenching thousands of children I saw wandering the streets who may never have the chance of their first day of High School. I thought of the lucky ones I met who, through the support of so many good people, would be given the opportunity to graduate High School.

I recall with fondness a student named Goodwin I met at the orphanage I visited in Zambia. This young man, who had the great opportunity of studying business whom I connected with right away. We started up a conversation and it took me back to my days as an undergraduate business studies student at University. He was 17 or 18 years old and one of 11 children living with his brothers, sisters and cousins cared for by his generous aunt. Sadly, Goodwin had lost both of his parents. Although he was officially an orphan, he was fortunate to have his aunt to care for him, another act of great humility by both his mother and her already burdened sister. This amazing young man still made time once each week to come and help out at the orphanage in the special needs room where I was enjoying the company of the beautiful and inspiring children. The children smiling and laughing at me were cared for with such love, mainly by community volunteers. Many of whom doubled up on jobs like the tailor who was also the physiotherapist!

I watched as Goodwin played so naturally with the children like Edward who had cerebral palsy and Vanessa who could not walk. I said to Goodwin that it must have been difficult to find quiet space to study in a household of 13! He just smiled and said the evenings were difficult, using only candle-light to read. I immediately thought back to how blessed I felt to have both my parents alive and have my own space in our family home to study. How would I have coped in the cramped two room hut Goodwin shared with the 13 members of his extended family – with no electricity, running water or sanitation. Again, I thought of how resilient we can be as young people.

I think of Goodwin often and wonder how does his community think to the future when putting a meal on the plate is the focus on the day… where starvation is still common-place? I saw the strength of community everywhere: people volunteering time, offering bags of corn-meal, physical labour to build a school, a pig pen, a water pump. And how can I possibly reconcile this with my experience today – my daughter’s beautiful school dress, school community, morning tea lovingly prepared by the P&F, smiling parents (some misty eyes too) and the knowledge that my daughter had the opportunities for success and reaching her greatest potential in life?

It seems that exposing our children to circumstances where resilience plays a role is the key to building strong communities from one generation to the next. I’m glad to have been able to share morning tea with the other mums this morning; glad I had the opportunity to see my daughter as she walked away with her friends to start a new chapter in her life (blowing me a kiss goodbye); so overwhelmingly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a mother by her other mother, whom I treasure in my heart every day. I’m also glad to have exposed my daughter to the beauty of sharing as a community in Croatia and especially glad to have met Goodwin and so many amazing people like him. I know the depth of my experiences will shape my family as I share my life stories with my daughter and grand-children.

I’ve realized that each generation has the opportunity for community of a unique kind. Each generation in each country will speak of its time ‘back when’. Sharing stories from one generation to the next are stories of the heart passed on as ‘books in breath’. I have realized just how difficult this is for us in our reality, as extended families are spread out across the country and the world. Unlike in Eastern Europe and Africa where families are close by and even living in the same house as a necessity to simply survive. In so many indigenous cultures throughout history, story telling by elders was such an important role of community life. So many riches can be found there.

So, whilst we look at ourselves and think what a blessed life we lead now, looking back I think of the gifts I was given. I was blessed with the gifts of a close family, a resilient spirit, faith and maturity through responsibility. I hope that one day, Goodwin too will be able to look back and tell his grand-children inspirational stories of his life. I hope he will be able to share with them on their first day of High School, about being one of 13 in a two room house, of studying for his business degree by candle-light. I imagine how these young adults may roll their eyes when hearing of his struggles, as we once did when our parents shared with us their childhood stories!

I know too that my daughter’s children and grandchildren will have different lives again. But my life’s experience has me believing generations passed and those to follow all hope for the same things: a loving family, opportunity for education, peace, resilience, understanding and a strong sense of community.

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