Tag Archives: family

Laura’s Best “Food for the Muse” Winter Recipes– Pork Tenderloin Wellington

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Pork Tenderloin Wellington:

A quick and easy meal that is sublime winter comfort food!

Ingredients:

Pork tenderloin

Puff Pastry—thawed but still cool (store-bought is the standard. It’s in the freezer section and it only takes a half hour or so to defrost)

2 cups dehydrated apples—not the totally dry kind (that’s me avoiding the word m**st)

4 tbs good mustard

8 slices prosciutto

1 tbs fresh minced thyme

1 tbs fresh minced rosemary

2 cloves minced garlic

1 egg lightly beaten in small bowl for egg wash

Procedure:

1)      Lay a sheet of wax paper on the counter

Cover with slices of prosciutto, overlapping a bit

Cover with another layer of wax paper

Roll thin and smooth with rolling pin

Remove top layer of wax paper

2)      Put pork (both slices of tenderloin) on the prosciutto, side by side

3)      Chop apples in food processor until size of…like a Tic tac or an Advil gel tab or like…half a sugar cube ish

4)      Add half the garlic, thyme, rosemary mixture to chopped apples and put between loins

5)      Roll prosciutto over loins tightly

6)      Flour another part of the counter

7)      Spread out puff pastry and roll out to fit over pork

8)      Add the other half of your herb/garlic mixture to mustard and spread over pastry

9)      Put prosciutto covered pork on pastry and cover tightly, sealing ends and middle seam with egg wash

10)   Brush with egg wash

11)   Use leftover pastry for decoration with cookie cutter designs, and brush with egg wash

12)   Cook in preheated oven at 375 until 140 degrees, (30-40 min.), or remove and rest 10 minutes

Note:  since meat likes to be room temp to cook, and puff pastry likes to be cold when it goes into the oven, you don’t want to pre-prepare this and store in your fridge.  Assemble it, cook it, and enjoy!  I’m serving this at my next Haven Writing Workshop for Haven Writing Retreats alums writing a book.  They’ll need the extra love!  yrs. Laura

*inspired by Alton Brown

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Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

Send a young deserving writer to Haven Writing Retreats and change their lives!  To contribute, learn more, and get special perks, click here

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Top 7 Values I Learned From My WW II Father

vetMy father was 50 when I was born.  I am 49 and holding.  I was raised in the decadent 80s.  He was raised in the Depression and WWII.  He called the Beatles “that strange new band.”  He couldn’t figure out how to “work” my boom box, but it was always too loud.  He “listened” to the television.  He couldn’t deal with how our generation’s songs were “nonsense.”  And he always thought that we were under-whelmed, under involved, apathetic.  His family stood in line for bread.  They worked no matter what and were thankful for a job.  He raised me in one of the wealthiest places in the world, and always came home every night,  took a loop around our house, came in, wiped his leather winged tipped shoes off from his cross Loop commute from Chicago, and then to train to suburban Lake Forest, to our lovely home and said, “We are so lucky,” kissing my mom, carrying me up to his room where he changed, Mr. Rogers style, into his nighttime, still gentleman, clothes.  I wanted to be him.  I wanted that gratitude and grace.

He served in WWII.  He said things that felt old fashioned when I was a kid.  Now I understand them.

Dad:

Write when you get work.

This means:   Connect.  Connect with your loved ones.  Don’t lose the people who love you.  The responsibility is yours.  Take it.  Your loved ones want you to be happy out there.  And they also want to welcome you home.  Especially when you are home inside yourself.  P.s.  Read about the Heroes’ Journey!

Don’t you know there’s a war going on?

This means:  Be mindful. There’s a lot happening that you don’t understand.  Learn from it.  Don’t put your head in the sand.

See you in the funny papers.

This means:  Don’t forget to have some fun.  Life will always deal challenges.  Doesn’t meant you can’t laugh.  And…when you laugh…you invite people to meet you in humor.  There’s plenty of pain in this human existence.  So we might as well laugh.

Let’s rent a barn and put on a show.

This means:  Bring some beloved people along for the ride.  Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland would be a good place to start.

The problem with your generation is you haven’t had a proper war.

This means:  Care about the conflicts in your world.  Just care.  Do something about trying to resolve them.  Don’t be a victim.  Be a game changer.

Your three minutes are up.

This means:  Don’t squander your time having false communication.  (he had no understanding of the world of texts, FB messages, emails etc.  The 0perator came on after 3 minutes and you had to pay more or get off the phone.)  Make communication count.

Do you know how lucky we are?

This means:  well you fill in the blanks.  In his case it was this:  He came from a hard working mid-western family.  He found financial success.  He loved his family.  He loved his job.  He was grateful every day.  How can you find this too?  See above.

Thanks, Dad.  You taught me so much about how to be a good person, and serve, like you served.  Veteran’s day and much much more.  Love, Laura

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My Next Happy

772Here’s a good question for you:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Here’s an essay that will show you one woman’s answer.

Inspired by The Next Happy, by Tracey Cleantis.  A book (and author) I love…and that will help you deconstruct what it is to be happy and apply it to your life!

As seen on Tracey Cleantis’ Blog:

What if there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to step into, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation?  What if it’s been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don’t?  What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast?  What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot?  What happened to your dreams?  And why aren’t they coming true?  Why aren’t you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true.  After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published.  It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis…and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions.   I was scared and excited and deeply happy.  I believed in my message:  we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart.  I chose this:  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.  For the most part, it worked.  Intentional words have a way of doing that.  In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I’d ever been.  I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed.  Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake:  my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career.  It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery.  The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear.  I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me.  Who was I exactly without my family intact?  What was intact?  Where was my power?  Where was my joy?  My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me.  And my fear was quelled by the fact that I’d been such a “miner” for a long time.  If I hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question:  What do I have of value that I can offer the world…which would earn me a consistent living?  Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean you are guaranteed financial stability.  Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty.  It was time to get very very real.  Or lose so much of what I’d created for myself and my children.  What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book’s message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews.  And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis.  It had to do with Voice.  Story.  Self-acceptance.  I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same.  There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard:  “Why does my story matter?  How do I find the words to tell it?  Or the time?  Is my voice even interesting or unique?  Who cares anyway…it’s all been told before.”grief

Over and over I said, “Yes, your voice is unique!  And so is your story!  No one has the same voice or the same story—it’s not possible.  And no one can tell it like you.  It matters to the world because it matters to you!”  But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp…even though they wanted to, deeply.  I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I’d been practicing for years with all my might.  To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.  To help them know what I know:  The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!wf

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it:  There was a serious hole in our human existence…and I knew a way to fill it.  What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free?  What if I led retreats?  Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word.  There’s not a soul who wouldn’t benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in.  What cred did I have?  I’d never led a retreat.  I hadn’t really been on many retreats.  Montana was far away for most people.  Why would they bother? But as I’d instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses:  I had something that the world needed.  And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security.  Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was…and yes, have it be easy.847

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes.  There was the gold!  I mined all the things that made my writing practice work.  There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives.  There would be one-on-one mentoring with me.  The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres.  There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies—long walks, yoga, horses—my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced.  There would be time to write in solitude.  And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities.  A workshop, retreat, and community all in one.  Heaven.  So I called it something very close:  Haven.  Haven Writing Retreats.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook:  “Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?”  And in two hours, twenty-four people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team.  Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country.  Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost four hundred people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again.  It has certainly changed mine.  My life is stable.  My children are thriving.  And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible.  I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question:  How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am?  By mining what I have to offer?  And offering it in the way only I can?

So…if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams?  Ask yourself:  What makes me happy?  How do I already show up for it in my life?  How can I share that with the world?  If you do…you just might find your way to a world of happiness…by being exactly who you are.  You might find your Next Happy.

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Haven Retreats Montana 2015 Schedule
September 9-13 (full)
September 23-27 (only a few spaces left)
October 7-11 (full)
October 21-25 (only a few spaces left)

Now Booking for 2016:

February 24-28

June 1-5

June 15-19

 

 

 

 

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Dreams Can Come True

“We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live…”  Brian Donovan
900-0634-KELLYc_F3smThis film went straight to my core from the first frame.  Its creator, Brian Donovan, says it so perfectly:  “We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.”  If you can own this sentence in any way shape or form, this film and this Q&A with actor/film-maker Brian Donovan is for you:

Q:         I loved this film so much, Brian.  As a writer (and a film major in college), I’m curious to know what your writing/editing process was like? 

A:         Ha. Well, in the beginning if you came into my office and saw the giant mural I had created of characters, stories, conflict, etc…you probably would have sent me to therapy. My friend said it looked like a giant Rorschach Inkblot Test! It was dense with black Sharpie. I liken the whole process to what I imagine shaping clay for sculptors is like. You start with a mass and then shape and shape, and for awhile it still looks like a big lump of clay. But gradually (and for me ‘gradually’ meant years) it starts to look like something. And then you start to fine tune…everything! For filmmakers, it often means ‘killing your babies,’ which basically means a lot of wonderful footage, and even scenes that you’ve ‘shaped and shaped’ end up on the cutting room floor. It’s a brutal process, but all part of finding the true essence of what you’re trying to say in the leanest and most effective way possible. 

Q:         You ‘shaped’ for a while–seven years.  Why was it so important for you to see it through and tell this story?

A:         I didn’t know it was going to take seven years when I started! Haha. I was compelled to tell my sister’s story because I still feel like there’s lingering prejudice and misconceptions about the disabled. If you had seen my sister from afar or across the room, most would just label her disabled, or “Oh, she has Downs.” We’re all more than what we might be labeled or branded and I want people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva she portrays in the documentary.

Q:         Boundaries, or lack thereof, are a big theme in the doc. Your relationship with your sister strained your other relationships, especially your romantic relationships.  In hindsight would you have done anything differently?

A:         I’d like to think I wouldn’t change a thing and don’t really believe in regret. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to my girlfriend’s needs, but at the time and throughout Kelly’s life, my sister was my priority. It was a sacred relationship cemented at childhood, and it never made sense for me to compromise that for a new relationship. It was a tricky thing to be sure, and finding the balance was nearly impossible until I met my now wife. 

Q:         What do you want people to take away from the film?

A:         We are not who we are when we’re born, but who we are when we live. And that dreams are important and should be honored and pursued with every fiber of your being. It not only gives our lives purpose, but it also creates a vibration in the world that is attractive and infectious if it’s pursued with good intention. And finally, to remember that our attitude is the only thing we can control in different circumstances–my mom’s attitude to bring my sister home from the hospital when the doctors advised her to institutionalize Kelly, my sister’s attitude that she was more than her disability, and my attitude that love is the greatest gift we have to give no matter what. Brian and Kelly

 NPR interview:

http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2015/07/30/43906/kelly-s-hollywood-a-dream-come-true-for-a-woman-wi/

 Link to stream movie (also via the doc website below):

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/kellyshollywood

BIO:

Brian Donovan has been a professional actor for over twenty-five years in film, television and radio. He’s worked on-screen with such luminaries as Angelina Jolie, Jim Carrey and Jim Belushi. He’s been the voice of countless animated heroes — currently as Rock Lee from the juggernaut hit, Naruto. Next year, he can be seen in the indie film, Secrets of an Unborn Child.

In addition, Brian has been the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Repertory Theatre since 1994, producing and directing over 50 inner-city high school workshops and live shows. He is also the creator, writer and producer of the Mighty Me Training Camp, a top ranking children’s self empowerment program streamed by Discovery Education. 

Brian lives in Los Angeles with his family and dog, Cosmo.

 

 

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Haven Winter Series #3

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.17 PMThis is the third post in my winter series where I open up my blog to other writers to explore a theme. This year I asked my Haven alums to consider submitting a piece about what it took to get themselves to the retreat, what their blocks were, and how it has informed future decision making when it comes to creating possibilities for themselves in the field of their dreams.

The theme is: I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? 

If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:

February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
September 9-13
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!

Click here for more info.  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker…

I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What?
By Fateme Banishoeib

Haven found me when I was lost as a little kitty cat on a corner in a rainy night. Haven took me home and rescued me from freezing unseen and voiceless. In the warm nest, I found my  whisper, protected by the feminine power of the circle and my heart heated by others’ passion for writing and give voice to their soul.

I was disturbed by the loud voices of brutes with no soul and to save myself I hide. Holding myself waiting for that moment, for that sparkle, that blink, for HAVEN, and finally come to light again. My truth came out in Poetry. I was born in Poetry and Haven gave me the chance to re-born in it again. Poetry was hidden in me, came out as from mother’s womb revealing beauty, life, memories, visions, dreams and medicines for my heart.

After HAVEN copious pages of poetry wrote themselves through my hands. I was given the key to open the magic door of intimate conversation with life. My mind does not know what is happening and led by the heart I conquer my presence in an act of freedom into the path from “good girl” to woman. A woman that does not care to be known or controlled. A woman that is rebelling for independence from what I was told to be and is changing the relationship with my own shadows. A woman emerging into the light of my true self.

In Poetry I am stepping up and coming alive again. Line after line I peel off the layers of hurts and free the real me that the “Dancing Queens” saw and I have been hiding.

The Poetry whispers to my ears that is never too late. It is time for fun, playing with words and their music. I know I always wanted to write and many years later it is what I am doing right now. Convinced by my own limits I kept telling instead that I did not want it. I said it out loud. So the Poetry took a detour and hide in the place I was most scared to go, the shadows. Blinded by my own veils of limitations I realize it now.

The music of Poetry is taking care of the secret garden I had abandoned exactly where I am and wait for the dream to be attracted by the smell of roses. I know it will come. I can smell the roses!

And after the gift of Haven I gave myself the gift of Poetry…this is for you and me.

The Ebb

I cannot see, hear, accept, control

I disappeared in the cold new season

In the darkness the only light is the imagination

I turn on the magical thinking and seek for the unicorns

The masquerade is over

The heart has taken over

I let go of the craving of wanting to know, wanting to be right

From the garden asleep

When the time is right

New life will spring

The sky above knows

Dark and light alternating as night follows day

The darkness is the time to dream big

Expect a miracle

We live in a world of miraculous Poetry

 

I Found My Voice and Lost My Cheese
by Mary Novaria

I left my shoes on the porch and stepped into the lodge feeling like a fraud.

When I arrived at Haven I’d lost confidence in my words and in myself. The past five years had been a morass of caregiving for an aging mother and teenage daughter, both incapacitated by maladies that my words, written or spoken, just couldn’t fix.

Although there’d been scant time and even less energy to write, when I got to Haven, I’d somehow managed to scratch out about 75 rough pages of angst, the meager beginnings of a memoir. A mother, a daughter, a grandmother—two slices of bread (them) and a slab of bologna (me)—assembled into a complicated mess of a sandwich.

Deep down, I didn’t really believe I could do it. Not in the way you have to believe in yourself and trust in your story in order to actually write a book. I was frozen, stuck, unsure of how to dig myself out.

But the ranch is warm. Even when your boots crunch down on the icy dew as you walk from the guesthouse to the lodge. Even with the lake shrouded in a gray mist that obscures the squawking geese. Even as your breath puffs out like exhaled smoke while you stand in awe of the night sky.

I began to thaw in the sanctuary that is Haven. Scribbling in a notebook spotlighted by the streams of afternoon sun the poured through the windows… sharing words and laughter and tears before the crackling fire… soaking up Laura’s kind, loving, emboldening words. There was warmth enough to incubate both a fledgling book and a lost woman as fragile as a chick just hatched.

And there was soup… specifically that simmering, creamy, fragrant carrot coconut concoction—the first of many love offerings to emanate from Emma’s kitchen.

I admit to a twinge of trepidation at the notion of going of vegan, if only for a few days. I could deal with no meat. But no dairy meant no cheese—one of my great comforts in life. Good riddance Gouda. Cheerio Cheddar.  Bye-bye Brie. I was astonished that I didn’t miss it, not even when we had raw tacos.

Two months later my new doctor (a naturopath) took me off dairy, wheat and a few other things to address some longstanding health issues. I began cooking and eating a different way and wrote to Emma for baking advice.

I reminded myself that at Haven I’d wanted for nothing. Not even cheese. And certainly not for companionship and inspiration. I realized that as much as I relish the isolation of the writing life, I do occasionally need the blanket of community to bundle me up and keep me from freezing to death. So I found my way to a monthly writers’ workshop. I’m not much of a joiner, so this was a stretch. But then, so was a life without cheese.

Using my workshop group for accountability, I committed to daily writing, once amassing a streak of 261 straight days. I took a break when the kids came home and felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. I shared chapters in monthly workshops, which kept me moving me forward since there was an expectation to show up with new material each time. I finished a first draft. A second. A third. A major revision.

For more than two years now, I’ve been a wheat-free, dairy-free writer. If I’m fortunate enough to find my way back to Haven, I won’t feel like a fraud when I cross the threshold in my stocking feet and I won’t be pining for Brie.

 

 

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Re-defining Family at Holiday Time

IMG_0007 (2)My friend and fellow seeker/Huffington Post Blogger Marina Illich and I like to untangle the hard stuff.  We call it Five Minute Manna.  This is what has our hearts and minds activated this holiday season:  Re-defining Family

Find Your People by Marina Illich

Holiday time is family time. But what exactly do we mean by family?  So many people live three times zones – or an ocean – away from their parents and siblings, turning travel “home” into a costly or time-sucking ordeal. Then there are the divorced parents left to create “family” plans on their own, while the kids spend their holidays with the ex. And elders? So many of them are repaired to an assisted living home far away, making it virtually impossible to get back to the ranch. 

Meanwhile, those who do get back to the ranch often wonder why they traveled the distance. We all know the uncanny way that holidays resurface old resentments, reactivate buried fault lines, and turn festivities of cheer into an endurance test of patience and poise.  Inside the dim welcome, one can almost hear singer/songwriter Damien Rice crooning those signature lines –  “Why do you sing hallelujah, if it means nothing to you? Why do you sing with me at all?”

Too many of us suffer enough from the predations of modernity – the divorces, job losses and job insecurity. The kids’ over scheduled lives and “underperforming” scores. The long commutes and dusty dreams. The loss of friendship and the loss of self. We don’t need the added pressure of enduring the holidays.

 So what’s the alternative? I suggest it’s time to update our idea of family. Let’s dispense with the imperatives to feel whole and happy inside a story of “family” that leaves us frail or frazzled. Let’s dislodge our commitments to stoicism and endurance that leave us walled inside towers of loneliness. And let’s disband our loyalty to conflicting demands that run us ragged when what we simply want is…to be received exactly as we are. 

Instead, let’s find our people. Let’s find those like-minded individuals who turn up in odd corners of our lives, who share some or none of our biography, who perhaps celebrate with fish when we celebrate with ham, or intone silent prayers when we devote ourselves to tracking the market or reading the Times. People who – for whatever logical or improbable reason – see, hear and feel our pulse with the gravity and gratitude that has us know we are at home. Let’s find those people and make those peoplethe family we arrive to in our stillness and frenzy, our hope and harry. And let’s make the gathering of that familythe ritual we behold – at whatever time of the year – to signal the holidays are here.

Let’s make thatfamily – geographically dispersed and culturally-spackled though it may be – the home inside which we eschew all the should’s and must’s we internalized along the way so that we can discover what we really are all about.

And let’s do all of this precisely so that when we do go back to our family with its far-flung network of third cousins, step-sisters, and in-laws, we behold them, once and for all – without indictment – exactly as they are.

Then, perhaps, we will find that whatever the season and whatever our destination, we are surrounded always and only by family – those relatives, friends, mentors, students, strangers and perhaps even adversaries – whom we recognize long, like us, for one simple thing: to be held and welcomed into our home exactly as they are.

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A Family of One  by Laura Munson

It’s the holidays, and no matter what’s in that wisdom quiver of ours…things are likely fraught.  Why is that?  Well, once-upon-a-time, we believed in something that someone told us, or preached to us, or wrote about, or filmed about, or photographed… on the meaning of family.  And we bought it.  And there’s a good chance that “family” looks very different to us now.  There’s an even better chance, that with that difference, we find pain, disappointment, and even shame.  Especially during the holiday season.

I come from a long line of documentarians.  My mother lovingly made photo albums and home-movies, featuring every first day of school, play, dance, graduation, in addition to the annual Christmas card—all of us posed just-so, sent out to hundreds of people as proof that we were a family.  A solid family.  I loved all of it, especially our Christmas card, gazing at the ones we received from other families—a community, of sorts, to tout and hold dear.  It gave me an intense sense of belonging. 

So, as an adult, I took the photo-album-video-Christmas-card-baton, and raced to the finish every year with a family Best of book.  If the house was burning down, that’s what I would take—the Best of books.

It takes me hours to make these books, reveling in what we’ve created in the last year.  Making sure I have that perfect photo of every baseball and soccer game, every award ceremony and orchestra concert, every pinnacle moment, as, yes, proof of my amazing family, but also as proof of my motherhood.  And on Christmas morning, I love sitting with my family and flipping through its pages, ooing and ahhing over the past year’s achievements, high points, adventures, folly.

A few years ago, my family-of-four turned into a family-of-three.  My husband and I needed to end our marriage.  It was sad and shocking and deeply disorienting.  People told me that we were “still a family—just different.  A modern family.”  But I didn’t sign up for a “modern family.”  I signed up for a family with a mother and father as a united force.  It rocked me to the core.

I’m often asked if we’re okay, especially if the kids are okay.  I’m not sure what okay means.  We’re still feeling joy, inspiration, pride.  We’re still on adventures.  We’re still having pinnacle photo-worthy moments.  But during the holidays, in these post-divorce years, it’s all so difficult.  My gut says, Go slowly, keep it gentle, tuck in with your little family-of-three.  Time to re-boot your whole orientation of family.  So:  No Christmas card.  No Christmas party with the half-mile of luminaria and the carols around the piano.  And no Best of book.  Instead, I’ve focused on creating magic with my children, cozy around the fire, playing games, eating soup, pressure off.  This is living time, not documenting time.

But on those dreaded days when I can’t actively practice my motherhood, or “family-hood”—when my children are with their father and not in the other room, and I am alone….my productive (Best of) mind kicks in, almost breathless:  Go to a soup kitchen, visit a nursing home, find friends who are alone too– create a new tribe of “family.”  That’s usually the way I fly—carry on, hope-springs-eternal.  But for now, I’m listening to my gut instead, because I know that my new concept of family needs to find itself out of flow, not fear…and the truth is:  I’m very very afraid of who I am alone.  I can reason my way around this with great aplomb, but reason doesn’t help.  If I am going to move forward in a truly authentic way, I need to find refuge in myself.  And those alone Christmas moments are a good place to cut my teeth.

My gut says, Become your own family. Learn to take joy in the things your hands touch and deem holy, even if there’s no one there to witness it.  Smell the paper-whites in the window and have it be enough that it’s for your nose only.  Light the expensive candle and feel grateful for the way it focuses your gaze, fills the room with the scent of amber.  Put on special clothes and don’t care if you’re photographed in them or witnessed at all.  I trust my gut.  I have to find the light in my own eyes, alone.  I have to believe, once and for all, that I am okay, alone.  It all begins there.  And perhaps ends there too. 

So tonight, alone, in a cashmere robe, candle lit, I created a Best of book of these post-divorce years.  And something magical and Christmas-kissed happened.  Scrolling through my files of photos, I didn’t look for achievements and winning moments.  I looked for light in my children’s eyes, and mine too.  I looked for sacred.  If I saw it in a baseball championship or an Honor’s Society handshake, then I chose that photo.  But only if there was light in those eyes I love so much.  Including my own. 

Which means that as we leaf through this book Christmas morning, on top of all of my children’s radiant moments, there will be photos of me leading my Haven Writing Retreats, riding my horse, growing a life that is outside of the family I’ve fostered, and perhaps…in-so-doing, finding new “family.”  Maybe we can’t really move on…until I do.  Alone.  Maybe the definition of family is really a radical acceptance of self.  And once we accept that, both my mind and my gut tell me, we will find our family community thriving, even if it looks entirely different than we ever thought it would.

 candle

Marina Illich, Ph.D. is a Bay Area-based executive coach and leadership consultant and the co-founder and principal at Broad Ventures Leadership.  With a doctorate in Buddhist Studies, she  spent five years in Asia studying Tibetan Buddhist practices for developing self-awareness, focus and resilience. She was recently appointed to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls by Gov. Jerry Brown. Marina can be contacted at: marina.illich@gmail.com

Laura Munson is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of the critically acclaimed Haven Writing retreats.  She lives in Montana with her family of three (and one!).

 

 

 

 

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Haven Gravy Giveaway!

Thank you to all who participated in my Haven Gravy Giveaway! We had some very interesting submissions, all in response to the challenge: why do you want my fabulous turkey gravy recipe? The prize? (aside from the recipe, of course) is a discount to a 2015 Haven Retreat in Montana. I’m pleased to announce the winter: Laura Probert from Bethesda, MD who responded with a 500 word poem about why she doesn’t necessarily want my gravy recipe as much as she wants to come to Haven! She gets both! You can learn more about her great work as a physical therapist and coach here: Bodyworks. And find her here too!


My next Haven Retreat will be February 25-March 1.  There’s still room but it’s booking fast! Give yourself the gift of creativity, voice, self-expression, community, support and inspiration!  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker.  Gravy not included.

Now for the secret revealed!

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

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

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!

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

2 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
        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

        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. 

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!

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Holiday Haven: Musings on Comfort and Joy

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2018

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and trusts the power of the wilderness of our Montana Haven to inspire the wilderness of your unique mind!  Come find your voice this February…  For more info, and to contact the Haven team, go here!

February 28-4 (a few spaces left)
April 18-22
May 16-20
September 19-23
September 26-30
October 3-7 & October 24-28

IMG_4412“A toast does not require a glass with which to clink.  It really doesn’t.”

The holiday season can be for many people…let’s just say:  fraught.  Maybe your life hasn’t gone the way you imagined.  Maybe you’d planned to spend Christmas Eve with a spouse, fireside, toasting to the future over your grandmother’s secret egg nog recipe.  Maybe you had dreams of children gathered around a beautifully set Thanksgiving table, drooling over the cooked beast, begging to hold hands and make sweeping statements of gratitude for another year of your endless bevy of sage advice.  Maybe you fell hook-line-and-sinker for the Holiday card photo that would be yours until death did you part—only this year, there’s only one parent in it, and you can’t find your camera anyway, and your kids refuse to pose.  Maybe you strung up your heart on the one small square box that would await you under the tree, filled with a tiny trinket with your name on it from someone called, Forever Yours.  Maybe your adult children and your grandchildren chose to go to the in-laws for Christmas and you’ve heard SHE makes better gravy than YOU, never mind her croquembouche !   My God…maybe you’re alone on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years.  Maybe your traditions never got a chance to birth.  Maybe the last time you felt that holiday cheer was when you were little and you’re far from little these days.  Maybe you want to beam yourself back to a time in your life that was more fair, simple, abundant, safe.  Or at least call someone who could remember that time with you fondly.  Only maybe, all those people are gone now.  

Don’t worry.  I’ll stop.  It’s not my goal to depress you.  But I’d like to think it’s my job to provide you some comfort and joy.  So here goes:

Whoever you are, wherever you are, the holidays are bound to leave your heart in shreds at least a little.  And before we get too far into the season, I’d like to help your heart hearth make its way to 2014 whole.  Fortified.  Happy to be beating whatever shape it’s in.

There are all sorts of ways to make the holidays sacred without focusing on what’s missing.   You can get a turkey from the grocery store (a lot of them give free birds this time of year), make soup out of it, and bring it to the local shelter.  You can invite friends you know are alone to sing carols at the local nursing home and gather for a meal afterward.  If your kids are elsewhere for a holiday, you can celebrate it with them on another day of your choosing and make it just as special.  You can make a Gratitude Tree out of branches, put it in a vase in the middle of the kitchen, and write notes of thanks on pieces of paper and hang them like ornaments—one per day until you ring in 2014.  You can read to kids at your local library some of those books your mother read to you and you read to your kids, or wanted to read to the kids you never had:  Truman Capote’s “A Thanksgiving Visitor,” “A Christmas Memory,” Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,”  Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Whales.”   You can gather up every holiday song you ever loved and blast them from the rafters of wherever you currently call home and sing your heart out. 

candleA toast does not require a glass with which to clink.  It really doesn’t.  You may tell yourself that it does.  And where will that get you?  On the Polar Express to the Holiday Blues.  Let’s step away from that train wreck and into the sacred.  Because no matter how you shake it, the truth is:  There is no shortage of sacred this time of year.  It’s everywhere.  You just have to receive it as the gift it is.  And there’s no re-gifting the sacred.  It comes to you, often when you least expect it, and it fastens you to reality like nothing else can, because it’s all yours.  No one can feel it for you.  Or take it away.  You can stand in a holiday-bedecked Lincoln Center, dripping in holly and cedar bows in the height of Handel’s Halleluiah chorus, standing next to everybody who’s ever been in your Christmas Card from the year you were born…and feel nothing.  You can hold hands around a cooked beast, candle-light dancing on the faces of generations of loved ones and generations of china, crystal, and silver…and feel empty.  You can stop in a snowy field in the middle of the night and watch steam funnel from the noses of draft horses, sweating from the sleigh ride they just took you on where you sang Jingle Bells, and drank hot-buttered-rum and someone quoted Robert Frost…and feel heartless.

So it’s time to stop bowing at those altars, especially this time of year.  If the magic happens…good for you.  As long as it’s something not nothing…full not empty…heartful not heartless.  Otherwise, let’s change the way our holiday minds think.  Let’s look truthfully at what is comfort and what is joy.  And let’s create that safe haven around us.  It begins with us.  Not who stands or sits next to us and in what hallowed hall.  Not who toasts with us.  Sings with us.  Eats with us.  Gives us gifts.  Receives ours.  We can take those Action verbs and send them up the chimney.  And we can replace them with a Being verb.  It’s possible to actually BE comfort and joy.  Not wait for it.  Of course it’s powerful (and yes, comforting and joyful) to take that Being and share it with loved ones in celebratory holiday moments.  But again, it has to start with us.  Whether or not you have a faith base, the truth is plain:  Our heads don’t bow on their own.  We bow them.  And whatever we’re bowing them to, especially at holiday time, let’s let those altars be ones that truly fill the heart hearth with comfort and joy.  Not expectation for the future or grief over the past.

This simple bowing to this simple altar is better than any tradition ever has been or will be.  Because it’s free.  It’s un-fraught.  It’s as simple as lighting a candle.  Not as a window-sill vigil for family lost or never gained.  But as an act of pure delight in the exact moment of your heart and breath.  This exact moment.  Right now.  Take a flame to that wick.  Sit quietly and watch.  Smell the wax warm and watch it pool and dare yourself to stay long enough to see it flood and drip.  Don’t clean it up.  Maybe put your finger into its stream and wonder at the fact that you can take the heat.  That it’s still friendly flame.  Just you and a lit candle.  All of a holiday winter’s night. prints

As featured on Huffington Post 50

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Thank God!

Retreat in Big Sky Beauty!  Haven Writing Retreats

June 19th-23rd (Full)
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September 4th-8th (Now Booking)
September 18th-22nd (Now Booking)

I’ve noticed something lately that I wish I’d noticed a long time ago.  Maybe if I’d been listening in church as a kid I would have learned it then, but I was too starry eyed– staring at the blues in the stained glass, dreaming about all the things there were to dream about.  That’s what church was for me:  a time to dream.  And believe.  And feel tucked into community between my loving mother and father, to harmonize on good old fashioned hymns, and to take the Holy Eucharist and really believe I was having a feast with my other loving parent:  The Big Guy.  Who somehow could make himself small too, wafer and wine-sized that fit into the cup of my soft little girl fingers.  I was always so thankful for that.  It was the thing that stood out for me Sunday after Sunday:  God could be bigger than the night sky, and small enough to rest on my tongue and be swallowed down with sweet communion wine.  I learned to be grateful because of the Holy Eucharist.

Somewhere along the line, I started expecting things to happen.  And I lost much of my gratitude.  I guess they call that entitlement.  It’s a highly unattractive quality, and one to skip at all costs if you can.  I started to get easily angered when the smallest hardships would happen.  Not the big things– those I took in slowly; piece meal.  I had faith that the Big Guy would handle that stuff.  I just had to pray for grace and for God’s “will” to be done.  That was what my sister, mother, and grandmothers told me, and I listened.  It was a much easier prayer than, “Gimme gimme gimme.”  But the small things…were another ball of wax.  I’d stub my toe and fling the F word.  I’d lose my place in line and want to make “a federal case” about it, bringing in words like “justice” and “fairness” and “wrong.”

Maybe it was because my parents had been brought up during the Depression and wanted my life to be light and blithe, but I don’t remember being taught the lesson that life is not fair.  There is no such thing as “fair.”  And if you think there is, you will suffer.  When people were mean to the little guy, I’d barge in and try to come to their rescue.  Or at least sit with them at lunch if I didn’t feel so brave.  When a kid would cheat in class and get an A to my B (especially when they cheated off of ME), I would fume in my diary, and fume in the school halls, and fume in general.  Sometimes I’d take it out on my Bichon Frise during our obligatory after-school walk around the block.  I’d tie him to a tree, and climb it and hide from the world.

Somewhere in the mix, my very best friends’ lost a sister and a father to cancer, and I realized that the safety I felt standing between my mother and father at church was not the rule.  It was the exception.  I was mad at the world.  Life wasn’t fair.  I did not feel grateful at all.  I felt duped.  The Communion wafer only worked in church.  So that meant…I was mad at God.

I brought my anger to a teacher in high school.  He said, “Well if you’re angry with God, that means you believe in Him.”  That really pissed me off.  I didn’t want to believe in a Creator who would be unfair.  And I took a long break from the whole mess.  I was mad at God, period.

I travelled around, studied other religions and spiritual texts, asked a lot of questions, and started writing books as a way to sort things through.  And somewhere after the birth of my first child, when everything was so pure and full of wonder and mystery and total surrender, gazing into the miracle of birth and new life, I realized…I wasn’t really mad at God.  I was mad at institutions:  school, family, church, society.  I felt like I’d been lied to.  Things didn’t all add up if you showed up a certain way in life.  They just didn’t.  There are no promises, no matter how good of a person you are, or how bad of a person you are.  Life happens.  Life is daily.  And life is painful.  And beautiful too.

And the only thing that made any sense at all was something that glimmered and winked at me from my past.  The Love message.  The Final Commandment.  So I took it and ran.  I wanted to forget about unfairness and suffering.  I just wanted to know what it was to live that final commandment.  I wanted to Love God, and my Neighbor, and maybe even in-so-doing…I’d learn that last little piece:  I’d learn to love Myself.

By and by, I had another child, and both of them grew, and I started to see them raging against a stubbed toe, or a mean girl comment to the underdog, or an injustice in the classroom, or a bad call on the soccer field,  or any number of “unfair” things life dished up.  And I sat them down and said, “I wish I’d have learned this a long time ago:  Life is neither fair.  Nor unfair.  Life is just life.”

They looked at me like I was an anarchist.  And maybe living into the Final Commandment renders a person just that.

“Stop expecting things to go a certain way.  Just love.  Be love.  Forgive.  And love some more,”  I said with the fervor of an Evangelical.  Maybe not the best way to sell a teen on something.

It fell flat.  In a kid’s mind, there’s no muscle in that way of thinking.  Because school teaches us that life is structured and the structure keeps us safe.  We get rewarded for certain behavior, and punished for others.  If we work hard, there are rewards.  If we look the part, we will be rewarded.  If we have certain types of friends and excel at certain types of activities, we are rewarded.  There is no Worst Student award.  There is no So You Had a Bad Year award.  There is no You Sat on the Bench award.  There is no You Eat Lunch Alone award.  You Didn’t Get Into Any of the Colleges You Applied To and Yer Going to the Community College award.  And yeah.  That sucks.  And the very best mothers, and teachers, and aunties will tell you:  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

But I want to teach something different.  I want to say that there aren’t lemons and there isn’t lemonade.  It’s all in your perspective.  That’s all.  For that I can breathe deep.  Feels good, doesn’t it.

So what does that look like in daily life?  Here’s how it played out last week and why I’m driven to write this post this Saturday morning in Montana, with the kids still asleep and no one rushing yet to get anywhere, on time, in uniform, to perform, to “battle,” to win…  Even when I say that it’s not about winning.  They hear Blah blah blah.  For now they are just quiet, and breathing, and warm in their beds and I’m on my second cup of tea, in my pajamas, with nowhere to go.  These are the moments to really receive what the week may have taught in the way of lessons.  And I got served up a good one.

I was having lunch with a friend and she was telling me about her divorce settlement.  She’d just finished her last mediation and she said it was the bravest she’d ever been.  They didn’t have the money to hire lawyers, so they negotiated the Parenting Plan, and all the division of assets, including the house, stock, back taxes…all of it…without any real legal counsel.  Just the mediator making sure they didn’t decapitate one another in the process, making minor suggestions based on who was crossing their arms in front of them and sneering.  “It was terrifying,” she said.  “But I got everything I wanted.  With the exception of my marriage.  But I guess that’s been over a long time.  It’s like a death, though.  You have to grieve.  You can’t skip steps.”  She sighed.  “But I think I came out okay in the settlement.  The mediator seemed to think so, anyway.  And my mother.”

“Thank God,” I caught myself saying.

She looked up at me with a sharpness in her exhausted, cried-out eyes.   “You know…why do we only thank God when things work out the way we want them to?  You know what I’ve learned in this whole divorce experience– watching my kids lose their core family, watching them have to accept another woman into their lives, watching them feel embarrassed in front of their friends, watching the break down of what was for years such a strong foundation…like trying to hold water.  Impossible.  You know what I’ve learned watching that water drain through my fingers no matter what I do to be a better vessel?  We don’t learn from the good times.  I didn’t learn anything from nice vacations to the tropics or years of perfect Christmas card photographs, or theme birthday parties all recorded for posterity’s sake to show what?  That we had something precious and beautiful and powerful and unshakeable?  No.  It didn’t end that way.  And what does that mean?  That we’re all fucked now?  That nothing from the past was real?  And that nothing in the future matters because the water fell through our hands and we couldn’t do a damn thing about it?  No.  No.  No.”

Her face was red and her breath shallow and I wanted to hug her, but I was sort of scared of her.  I’d never seen her so strong and present.  So I just sat there, waiting.  I knew I was about to learn something big if only I had my mind open and my heart wide.

“I’ve learned that the best Thank God we can utter is when things DON’T go the way we want them to.  When life serves up total and utter SHIT!  That’s the time to drop to our knees and say, Thank you, Lord.  Thank you.  Because that’s where the lessons are.  That’s when we grow.  That’s when we can really understand what it is to love in its most pure and simple way.”

I could feel myself resisting it.  Why don’t we want this to be true?  What are we so scared of?  I remembered the last night’s sunset and how it yielded to star after star popping into sight like, “hey– I was here the whole time, you just couldn’t see me.  Maybe you could remember a thing or two about holy mystery and all that dreaming at church you used to do.”  I had felt gratitude that night sitting there, parked by the meadow, watching night come.  But being grateful for divorce?  Or cancer?  Or death?  That takes a master.  Doesn’t it?

I gave it a whirl.  All week when things came up that I didn’t like or that felt uncomfortable or dangerous or just all wrong…I mouthed, “Thank God.”  When the toilet, dishwasher, and hot tub all broke in the same day, I mouthed, through clenched teeth, but still:   “Thank God.”  When I found a pack rat nest under the hood of my truck and black smoke billowed through the tail pipe, I screamed, “Thank God,” but it kind of sounded like a swear word.  Still.  When my kid threw up at school, I said, “Thank God,” and stocked up on chicken broth.  When I tried to release a mouse into my yard rather than snapping its neck with a conventional trap, and my dog attacked it…I whispered…”Thank God,” but with a question mark.  I decided there is no right Thank God.  It’s just an openness to the flow of life being exactly as it is, and even exactly as it should be, if you believe in should.  Or design.  But even if you don’t, gratitude busts through suffering, and I think we could all use a dose of that.

I’ve decided to try to get back to that little girl in church who didn’t necessarily need things to go a certain way.  In those days,  I had the safety of my mother and father and this Creator called God that the minister promised existed and on top of that, loved me.  That was all I needed.  That kind of blind faith is what I want back.  I don’t know who or what God is.  I’ve had hundreds of ideas about this subject for years.  When I was little I used to say, “But who is God’s God?”  I don’t want to have questions like that any more.  I like the mystery.  I often say to my kids, “If we’re supposed to know, we would.  Just receive the message.  Just love.  That’s hard enough.”

But does it have to be so hard?  I think the way to it being easy is in the spirit of what my friend taught me this week.  If we can find gratitude for EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING, and receive it as a holy gift…well, I dare say, with tears in my eyes and the tea kettle telling me there’s a third cup for me this fine Montana morning…that holy gift is the gift of freedom.  May you have thanks for everything that makes up this day.  And may you feel free in it.

 

 

 

 

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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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