Monday, January 31, 2011

Vanilla: It Feels Good to be Bursting

Dear Reader,

Sometimes I am too ripe. I am bursting with juice and joy and desire to hear pen scratching on paper, fingers typing on the is such a luxury to be so full.

I recognize this - that right now I am rich with inspiration - and thankful for it. I am grasping it, trying to hold on.

At times like this I need to choose between writing and sleep. Frankly, sleep usually wins out because I have a family and children and a job that requires me to be encouraging, positive and on my toes for the betterment of today's youth.

But if I could, I would be living the quintessential writer's life - in my pajamas all day, writing, writing, writing...stopping only to check the mail and take the dog out for a quick constitutional before pouring another cuppa and scribbling some more...


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vanilla: Good Reads

Read two good books recently. The first one was The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak. I am really into poets like Rumi and Hafiz right now and loved this book about Rumi and Shams of Tabriz and how Rumi was introduced to Sufism. The modern element appealed to me as well.

The one I just finished today is called The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. This is a very sweet, easy read. If you like novels about cooking that read like a movie then you will enjoy this. It's a light, fun read with sweet stories about life and love and the healing nature of shared food and time spent together in the kitchen. You will enjoy this one!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Much Is Enough?

Dear, Dear, Dear Reader,

This question has been haunting me of late..."How much is "enough"?"

I know what I don't have enough of...sleep and time being the top two. Time is far and away #1 on my list. I don't have time enough to think, or write, or relax, or meditate, or wonder, or ponder, or dream or read. I barely have enough time to do my work, fullfil my obligations as wife, mother, employee, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, etc.

Don't misunderstand, I am thankful to be each of those things - honored and proud and grateful.

I just crave more time.

So, as in many things, it is such that I know what I have too little of. Thankfully I can only think of two things. I know there are many, many people out there who could add a whole lot of things to their list - food, money, clothing, to name a few. Yet the question remains: how much of the other stuff is enough?

Forgive me if I ramble, as I am trying to work this out as I go...I know we have enough food. We certainly have enough clothing (I think I could go for a full month without having to wash clothes at all. We may all be commando by the end of the month, but we could survive. I must conduct an experiment!)

So, we have enough food, enough clothing, enough material goods crowding the house and garage - shoes, books (my fault!), TOYS, artwork, technology, sports equipment.

Do we have enough money? Hmmm...that is a tricky one. Perhaps that is THE tricky one. We have more (much more) than others. According to the world bank, France's average per capita income is $42,620. The US: $46,360. Costa Rica: $6,260. Bhutan (where they are supposed to be the happiest) $2,030. OK, Norway skews our data - they come in at $84,640...with a life expectancy of 81.

What else might we have, or not have, enough of?

What do you have "enough" of? How do you know you have enough of it?

I'm curious to read your answers...

Yours in Wanting,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

daily vanilla: oh, that wonder that is Maya Angelou!

Dear Reader,

It is mere coincidence that my lovely daughter is named Maya. We didn't hamer her after anyone - not even Maya Angelou. But can I say how pleased I am that they share the same name? (and the same fire, I have a sneaking suspicion...)

I am a "friend" of Maya Angelou on FaceBook and she posted this little gem today:

"If you are going down a road and dont like what's in front of you and look behind you and don't like what you see, get off the road. Create a new path."

I am not sure what it is about this quote that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up so. I am sure there are many things...but today it's the confidence, the courage, the just be yourself godammit-ness of it all.

Your partner in clearcutting,

PS: The Amazing Miss Maya Angelou is coming to town, March 18, I already have my tickets - click here to purchase yours.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Thank You" power

Dear Reader,

Thank you. Thank you for reading the randomness that is my blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about what I have written and for encouraging me to continue to write. I appreciate it more than you may ever know.

With Love,

Didn't that feel good? Doesn't it feel good to be thanked - especially if it is for something you enjoy doing anyways? Or even if it is something you have to do - a part of your job, perhaps. Sometimes being thanked for that can get you through a rough day, or rough patch, at work.

Something I have been conscious of doing is thanking people. In writing. I write thank you notes and send them in the mail. You know, the old-fashioned way, the kind of mail you get in your mailbox. I imagine my recipients to be thrilled getting something addressed to them, in handwriting, that is neither a bill nor an invitation to a time-share seminar. I have thanked receptionists and co-workers and friends. People who ought to already know how much I love and appreciate them as well as complete strangers.

True, it makes me feel good too. But I think it makes them feel even better. It's not often enough that I can do something relatively simple to help someone feel good, or better, or appreciated. I am enjoying the exercise.

My goal is to continue and perhaps expand the process. Good is good, no matter how you look at it.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Stillness

From the Sufi poet Hafiz:

A Still Cup



To make love,

For the divine alchemy to work,

The Pitcher needs a still cup.


Ask Hafiz to say

Anything more about

Your most



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Daily Vanilla

I just love this quote:

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” ~ Vincent van Gogh


Friday, January 7, 2011

but can i walk the walk?

oh, Dear Reader,

so much to do, so much to do!

the tree and holiday decorations need to come down, be packed away. i have to take an exam tomorrow for work - one of those exams that drain your brain and exhaust you. and require #2 pencils. i have, literally, 2 milk crates stuffed full of papers to review and finals to grade. laundry multiplies like extra-horny rabbits. i have a really, really good library book i want to sink into. my body is craving a really long yoga session. i am not done with my year in review. i am still on "vacation" and would prefer to use this time to continue to relax and not have to spend the day in my frozen, filthy classroom grading finals.

today's challenge is to find that place of stillness and sit there. even amidst the whirling tornado of "shoulds" and "musts" that are largely, no, entirely, made up, arbitrary.

this is an opportunity to practice what i preach. i can talk the talk, but can i walk the walk?

or -

can i be the be?

sit the sit?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 in the rear view

Hello Dear Reader,

Day 5 of the new year. So far, so good. I have to tell you that one of my "goals" for the new year has already been met!

I have been writing this blog since my birthday in 2009. So it is just a smidge over a year old. I am pretty happy that I have maintained it for a year. I get positive feedback from the friends and family who follow it and who read it when I send out updates. I am truly grateful for that and it gives me both pleasure and momentum whenever someone leaves a comment or sends me an email in response to a post.

This year, in 2011, my goal is to have at least one comment from someone who I am not related to nor do I know personally. I would also like to increase my number of followers and have that increased number include folks I do not know personally.

The first half of that goal was met on January 2! I got a comment from a stranger! Although, truly, any other woman around my age who writes poetry, blogs about it and reads other poet's blogs is not all that "strange" to me, is she?

I was SOOOOOO stoked to see her comment!!! (Thank you S!)

I had a similar feeling when I reviewed the past year. For many reasons 2010 was extremely difficult. Key, of course, was the death of my mother at the age of 61. That was a challenging time for me for many reasons in addition to my mom's passing. But I got through it - as I am wont to do in most situations - or I wouldn't be sitting here writing, would I?

After my mom passed in August the year continued to be challenging in ways both good and bad (from a new job I love but that gives me a ton of work to too many deaths of people I knew - the deaths of the young, the unexpected, quick deaths being the most difficult to process.) But from the range of experiences over the last 6 months or so I have learned so much.

I have learned the importance of, really. You may laugh - "Yes, of course, we know it is important to breathe..." but I mean it. We take it for granted, we don't pay attention to it, we do it without thinking about it. Breathe mindfully. If things are tough, breathe. If things make you feel sad, or stressed, or depressed it is OK. Just feel what you are feeling and pay attention to your breath and you will get through it. Anger, sadness, fear, joy, envy, confusion...breathe through it all.

Being able to breathe and "be in the moment" (however cheesy that may sound to some of you) I was able to be fully present with my mom when she took her last breath. I was able to move on to a new job - and manage the stress of essentially being a first year teacher again now that I am teaching a new subject. When the workload gets to be too much I literally stop, breathe, and think about what the important things are in my life - what I have identified as my top 5 priorities:

1. Having fun with family and friends
2. Writing
3. Practicing Yoga
4. Meditating
5. Reading

Then, after pausing, breathing, and thinking about what is important to me I move on, usually with a clearer view of how much time I want to spend worrying about something (an unhappy student/parent, the stacks of papers to grade, the loads of laundry piling up or the annoying little dust bunnies who taunt me from every corner) that is not on my list of truly, madly, deeply important things.

The week after my mom died I submitted some poems for a local event - In Celebration of the Muse. This is a major event for women poets in Santa Cruz (which, honestly, is a hot bed of poetic talent). It has been going on annually for 30 years and I have been going, as an audience member and admirer, for over 5 years. One year I wrote in my journal how I wanted to read at the Muse someday. Well, 2011 is my year! I got in! And the beautiful thing is that the organizers have asked me, specifically, to read the poems I have written about my mom.

I also had work accepted this year by two other lit reviews (Shemom and the Porter Gulch Review) and had a piece selected as a finalist (top 5 out of over 250) in another contest. Considering I only submitted work to 7 places getting in to 3 and being a finalist in the 4th is not too bad!

So, as I look back over the year, I am altogether happy. I had some successes with my poetry and made progress on the novel (25,000 words worth thanks to NaNoWriMo), I have a new job that I am thoroughly enjoying, I got to be with my mom when she passed away, I have learned a lot, I have established a steady yoga and mediation practice, my children continue to grow and flourish, I have supportive, loving, amazing friends and family who totally showed up in a time of great need, my father (my mom's ex-husband) was spellbindingly present and amazing during my mom's death, I had a most remarkable time on retreat for my 43rd (!!!) birthday and I am feeling juicy and ripe as I head into 2011.

This year I will continue to write, share my work, apply and submit to publications and events that I think I will never get in to, to write to you and hope you spread the word about Vinegar and Vanilla, to breathe, to learn, to love, to dream, to have fun, to stretch, to walk and ride instead of drive, to smile at everyone, to laugh every chance I get, to dance and sing to the music and to have fresh flowers on my table - because I promised my mom I would.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

This is Where the Magic Happens! pictures from december's writing retreat

This is where the magic happens! New Camoldoli is the location of the annual silent writing retreat that I go on. This long weekend is one of the most transformative, juicy, inspiring and restorative experiences I have ever had. My writing muse, mentor and prime encourager, Amber Sumrall, leads the retreat and many others. I look forward to this weekend every year. Someday I will be fortunate enough to afford to go on two of her retreats ~ one in the summer and this one.

I am not particularly religious, but "signs" like this abound at the monastery and are comforting in a very natural, non-threatening way.

This was my room this year. I love being in room 9, since I always think of 9 as my lucky number. I was born at 9:36 PM on 12/9 - all the threes involved! Maybe it's 3 that is my lucky number! LOL!

I got a kick out of being in the Immaculate Heart room too. All the other rooms are named after saints.

A sample of the spectacular natural beauty of Big Sur. Truthfully one of the most amazing coastlines on Earth.

This sign on the road to the monastery never fails to make me smile, breathe and slow down. This is always my mantra as I leave the mountain and wind my way back to reality.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Flaky Flix: A Cautionary Tale

Dear Reader,

Happy New Year!

2011 ~ thank the goddess you are here, I am ready for a symbolic shift. As you, dear Reader know, I cycle through times of diligence, discipline and productivity (DDP) contrasted with times of sloth, despair and waaayyyyy too much coffee. This is an ongoing thing with me. I am sure you have your own cycles you go through. The best I can hope for is for shorter sugar/caffeine/sloth cycles and longer DDP cycles. And an awareness of where I am and that I can either speed the cycle along or slow it down, respectively.

I mention this because, as it is the new year, it is the traditional time for reflection and setting new intentions. Not resolutions, but intentions. I like to review my journals for the past year and reflect on what has happened, how I dealt with things, what I am proud of, and where and what I need to continue to pay attention to. Then, I think about what I would like to happen in the new year and set some intentions.

It works well for me at this time of year not just because it is the "new year" but also because my birthday is in December and I often go on retreat around then plus, as a teacher, I have a break now. It all fits together nicely.

Lest you think I am too awesome let me tell you this secret: I have eaten so many cookies and pieces of fudge over the past week I think I have developed a true buddha belly. Even worse, I have washed said cookies and fudge down with wine and/or champagne almost every night. Boo me.

I simply can't help myself. If it is in the house, on the counter, I can't resist. I kinda like to feel as bad as possible, you know, hit rock bottom, before I break out of the sugar cycle.

I hope this does not come as a surprise - I know I have told you on more than one occasion I have very little self-discipline. Particularly in the areas of chocolate and butter and sugar and, well, fermented grape products.

By way of history, a story:

Once, in college, I had a bad night. I think the guy I was dating was mad at me - maybe we even broke up (BBac, are your ears burning?) In any event, I was distraught. My roomie was out for the night or the weekend and I, sad and broken hearted, decided to take it to the limit. This involved a trip to the grocery where I bought at least one bottle of wine and a box of Flaky Flix. If you don't know the joy of Flaky Flix you really should. But don't ask me to join you.

I went home, listened to sad break-up music and drank wine and ate Flaky Flix. And wrote bad broken hearted poetry. The evening ended with me in the bath, candles all around and the nearly empty box of Flaky Flix on the bathroom floor next to me.

Did you know that if you pour hot melted candle wax into the bath it solidifies on contact? Tres dramatique! But a real bitch to clean up the next day.

I digress...

In any event, the point is that I do not know when to say when. Or, more truthfully, I do know when to say when, I just refuse to say it. I really prefer to eat the whole damn box of Flaky Flix and wash it down with the whole damn bottle of Louis Martini Cab (college wine of choice and budget) and melt down all the candles and fill the whole journal with bad poetry written until my pen runs out and then prick my finger and write in my own blood and slip out of the bath only when the water is ice cold and crawl into my bed with wet hair so I wake up not only hungover and in a sugar coma but also with pneumonia just so I get all the feeling bad out of the way at once .

Then, I have a renewed dedication to right relations, less alcohol, better poetry and, well, a really strong aversion to Flaky Flix. Even to this day.

Kind of like celebrating New Year's.

Happy 2011!