When wishes arrive 

It wasn’t until my second trip into the garden in the blistering heat, my arms full of crunchy celery, delicate parsley and colorful Swiss chard, that I came to appreciate just how much my New Year’s resolution is coming true. 

In January I set an intention for ‘Easeful Abundance‘ in 2016. I wrote it over my desk and imagined it taking the form of loving my home and my body, welcoming financial wealth and prosperity, feeling more grounded, and being in a great relationship. 

What I received, among other things, are kale and tomatoes.  

My dad planted 30 kale in the front yard this year, because he knew I liked them and got carried away. Clearly. There are at least as many tomato plants from little orange gems of sweetness to gnarly and beautiful heirlooms.

Last night at dinner he said, “You can never have too many tomatoes.”

We are living by that motto right now, and they are everywhere! Why plant them in one place? I’m finding new ones all the time, under ever-widening leaves of kale and hidden among overgrowths of weeds. There are lots of those too. This is not the prettiest, most organized garden you’ll ever see, but the plants don’t seem to mind.

Did I mention the mystery squash growing in the compost pile? This seems like a children’s book waiting to happen: “What’s growing in Tom’s garden?” 

What struck me as I stood at the kitchen sink washing, freezing, and eating some of the bounty growing outside our door, was how easy this all was. I live ten feet away from a literal abundance of organic garden goodness. 

I’ve been uncomfortable in the past with too-much of anything. Choosing ‘Abundance‘ this year was in effort to become more accustomed to having more than enough of what I need and keeping my arms wide open for more. The ‘Easeful‘ part was a reminder that great things can naturally happen without much effort from me. I can show up and receive. Another old story I’m letting go of in service of a happier life.  

If kale and tomatoes can pop out of the ground… If my dad can be surprised by how many yellow tomatoes we have because every time he went to the store in the spring he grabbed another remembering that they are my favorite… This is what Easeful Abundance can be like. 

With so much more goodness on the way. 

I mean, there are still watermelon yet to be picked!

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Getting spooked

Sorry that it’s been a while.

I freaked out.

Last August, I woke up from a nightmare while on vacation in Tuscany. I tried to walk it off through the early morning hours in the tiny town where I was staying, and in the process got into quite the conversation with myself about what I continue to hold onto years after a relationship ends.

Then I shared it.

Because that’s what I do. When I uncover greater understanding, I hope what I learn helps you, all of us, dislodge the thoughts that keep us separate from one another, and find more ways to reach out, be ourselves, love and be loved.

Good news / bad news: the post was read.

One of the first responses I received was from one of the last people I imagined would read it. We both knew who the story was about though neither of us referenced it directly. The email simply said to have fun on vacation.

That was enough.

From however many thousands of miles away, I felt exposed as if we were in the same room together. I wanted to hide.

So I did, for six months. (And also ate a lot of cake. How could I resist this table in the Tuscan inn?)

It’s not that I wasn’t writing, it was that I couldn’t bring myself to hit Publish. Almost as if I was physically unable to.

When feeling vulnerable, my go-to response is the classic deer-caught-in-headlights.

In their defense, it’s a decent tactic in the woods. Stand perfectly still, and fade into the background until the coast is clear. Those damn headlights change everything, rendering deer even more visible than if they had just kept going. Now we all have more time to stare.

The longer time passed, the harder it was to move again. This blog lay dormant, and it became increasingly difficult to post on my coaching blog too. Lucky for me, you were busy with your own life and probably didn’t notice my absence as much as I worried that you did.

Thanks to those who did notice — that helpful flick of the high beams that woke me up out of my trance — I’m back.

Being asked about my writing reminded me how much I missed it, in particular the act of sharing it. The connection fostered between us.

Then I could see what had happened. I got spooked. The perfect topic to share for my return.

That thick skin of successful writers who continue the output no matter what is said? God bless them. I hope to be there someday. Maybe this post will keep me going.

Hopefully it will keep you going too.

I missed you.

 

When you wake up from a nightmare in Tuscany

Probably too much pecorino the night before, but you haven’t figured that out yet. 

Your eyes struggle to focus in the dark, unfamiliar room and the lingering haze of sleep. You stretch out of a tight fetal position, first one arm and then the other until the knuckles of your left hand reach the headboard cushion. Your stomach is sore, as if you were punched in the gut.  

Seeing him, even with your eyes closed, always has the same effect. 

The air had shifted, as it always does, when he entered the imaginary living room that was supposed to be his parents’ but didn’t look anything like the real one.  

You don’t want to be with him anymore, in any realm, but were still hoping he thought you were pretty anyway. The slippery slope that happens while awake too. You didn’t look directly at him in case you wouldn’t like the answer. 

You announced that you were leaving, hoping to save yourself from how much you wanted him to want you. That’s when you noticed a young woman relaxed in an armchair, her long alabaster legs hanging over one of the arms. 

She smiled and said that she was staying a little longer. She tried to be nonchalant. Most people might have believed her, but you knew better. You had used the same look before. It meant there was hope, or already a silent agreement in place. 

The gut-punch. In an instant you hated her. More than a little. Even if you were just toying with the idea of getting back together, like you do sometimes when you Google him and find nothing.    

Then the proof of him moving on was draped carelessly in front of you. He (or rather your masochistic subsconscious) left you and her alone in the living room to make the connection. 

Then you woke up breathless to the world outside of your dream.

Where are you? You sit up, studying the soft light through closed slated shutters and sheer drapes, and swing your legs over the edge of the bed to place your bare feet on the room’s cool terracotta tiles. 

San Quirico d’Orcia. 

A church bell must have saved you. It’s 6:00 a.m.

You could go back to sleep in case your subconscious decides to be kinder. Or, you could explore. 

You put on pants and a long sleeve shirt, and head outside. 

Everything is a hill in this tiny, red-bricked medieval town. You cross the street to sample a wild blackberry you saw the neighborhood children picking as you arrived the evening before. A branch catches your sleeve and pricks your forearm stunning you a bit more awake.  

You climb a set of steep stone stairs to a park. The sun is bright and already warm as it rises over a distant mountain range. Below in the rolling valleys of dry clay dirt and cyprus trees is dense mist. If the elevation were higher, you’d swear you were above the clouds.  

 You stop, forcing yourself to take in the natural beauty around you, reminding yourself that this is vacation. A good thing. 

It doesn’t work.

Ahead of you on a flat paved path is a couple walking, the man in front of the woman. Both in clean white sneakers, he with a white t-shirt and baggy navy pants, and she wrapped in a red and gold sari. As you approach them, you exchange Buon giorno with each in turn, and the sound of the shared greeting helps you remember how to smile.    

You cut through a school yard, and come upon a small pond with ducks. Five adults dip their tails in the air in succession, their orange feet paddling just below the water’s surface as they search for breakfast, while six fuzzy babies scurry around them. Bouncing into each other, and then rushing just as fast in the opposite direction. You step through matted grass and dried duck droppings to watch the scene. 

Moments later you’re off again, the soreness in your gut persists and propels you onward, trying to get as far away as you can from the dream.  

Climbing higher, you reach the old wall of the city center and walk around it running your fingers along the stone, imagining who else did the same centuries ago, what they were thinking, dreaming. 

The plaster, clay and rock fortification opens gracefully into a manicured garden with worn marble sculptures and a maze of cropped thickets and flowers behind a rusted iron gate. 

Every step brings more beauty, and yet they register merely as a ticked-off list in your mind. 

Through the garden and the shade from a row of trees, you reach the city wall again that this time opens onto a ledge. You peek your head out, curious, and take in another stunning view of the Tuscan valley. So quick is your pause that you nearly miss the speck out of the corner of your eye: a hot air balloon floating between you and the sun.  

 You step further onto the ledge and take out your phone for a photo. You take a deeper breath, perhaps your first of the day, from the uphill exursion and allow the warm air to fill your lungs.  

That’s when the tears overtake you.  

Your throat tightens, your earlobes burn. 

She’s found her way here, half a world away — the one who tried to be who he wanted her to be, and who lost herself, yourself, in the process.

You grieve for her then, and for how much it still hurts two years later. 

You squint holding the balloon in your sights, unsure what else to do.  

Minutes later, maybe more, you’re walking again. Slower this time. Around the town, staring up at carved Madonnas, faded wooden doors and climbing rose vines, and past the church as its bell tolls for 8:00 a.m. 

You descend the quiet cobblestone main street as one proprietor emptys ashtrays from the night before. You pass through the sturdy stone wall, and check in with the baby ducks too busy to notice as they continue racing to or from something even they aren’t sure of. 

Your inn comes back into sight, and with it you feel your first pang of hunger.

Fresh croissants await. 
 

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The Suburban Home Companion

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood of colonial and Cape Cod-style houses, riding the bus to school and my Huffy bicycle in the summer. Without a helmet. It was the eighties in suburbia.

Four months ago I began a new morning walk ritual, heading out at 7:00 a.m. for a loop around the familiar web of cul-de-sacs.

My eyes started to open up to a place I’ve known my whole life and yet had never taken the time to notice.

One morning as I crossed the street to turn down our block, I passed a neglected corner of someone’s yard and in the mass of overgrowth were branches bursting with berries. A step closer revealed them to be wild blackberries, or black caps as they’re called around here.

I looked to my left and right down the street and then tiptoed, okay trespassed, four feet onto the property.

I walked home with a handful, and rinsed and stirred them into my oatmeal turning it a red hue. They were tender, seedy and mildly sweet. While eating breakfast, I felt the thrill of discovery…and of not getting caught.

On my next walk I brought a bag. After looking around again, and then up at the windows only a couple yards away, I went to work.

Thanks to my hopefully-oblivious neighbors, I picked nearly two pounds of thIMG_8410e dark purple lovelies and an hour later into a pot they went along with lemon zest and sugar.

The results are impressive if I do say so myself. And I do say so nearly every time I take the small jar out of the fridge. My first-ever jam!

Some of it has appeared in a peanut butter sandwich, but you and I can be real. It’s too good not to immediately savor my success by the spoonful.

While this was happening in the kitchen, my dad decided to dig up the lawn.

Yes friends, our 3/4 acre yard has now become a community garden.

Word spread quickly. How could you not notice?

One afternoon while he was out planting, our next-door neighbor yelled over to him that we should open a farm stand. Without missing a beat, Dad replied, “Good idea. I’ll make the lemonade.”

Then came a phone call from another neighbor who had been given rhubarb plants at church, did we have room for them? Fifteen minutes later I met her outside with a shovel.

More than half of the garden is being planted by a family friend who was once a farmer in Jamaica before moving to the U.S. He’s been so kind to us through the years that my dad offered to give him our land since he doesn’t have any of his own. In the process, it has become a great excuse for Dad to return to his gardening roots, too. When a mysterious bag of green leaves and stalks appeared on the kitchen counter the other day, Google informed me that we are growing callaloo.

We also have several varieties of leaf and head lettuce along with two types of kale, collard greens, tiny spinach and an array of herbs — basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, and lemon thyme. The squash and tomato plants are just kicking into gear.

I’ve given some vegetables away, and make time daily to survey what new little growth has popped out of the ground. Yesterday I walked outside at noon, and by 1:00 p.m. was eating a salad composed entirely of what I found. I went back at 7:00 p.m. to gather ingredients for a smoothie in the morning.

I guess this was kind of meant to happen. You see, I have always held a place in my heart for houseplants, greeting new leaves on my umbrella tree, Adelaide, with a happy hello. In college I decorated our dorm-room ficus with garland at Christmas. Because everyone buckles a small tree into the passenger seat next to them on their drive to school, right? His name was Herbie the Love Fig.

Now I’IMG_8465m learning to love garden-variety plants. When the first bulbs of kohlrabi formed at the bottom of the four plants my dad bought on a whim not sure what they were, I could not contain my delight.

And baby eggplants! I mean come on, aren’t these the cutest???

In the ol’ neighborhood, kids still ride by on their bikes without helmets. Someone’s dog runs at full speed through our yard once a day. Time is slower. I didn’t imagine what would happen when I slowed down with it.

Join us for more tales from Lake Wobegon, or rather Barkley Road.

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Zufriedenheit

Zufriedenheit – Happiness:
Coming from happy – enjoying
pleasure and contentment.
Related words: joy, gladness,
feeling fortunate or prosperous.

The above was the definition offered in Markus Zusak’s 2005 YA gem, The Book Thief. German phrases are peppered throughout, some defined and others left for you to draw your own conclusions from the context.

[A special thank you to our neighbor, Sandy. The book mysteriously showed up on our dining room table one day. Three chapters in, I realized why. It’s a compelling read about innocence, accordions and love in Germany during the Holocaust as told by a kind, omniscient grim reaper.]

Something about zufriedenheit captivated when I saw it on the page. I was sitting on the back porch of my parents’ house at the time, enjoying the late afternoon shade. I liked the word so much I said it out loud twice more, looking up at the trees and smiling. Try it.

A month later I came back to it when I felt the full extent of my own zufriedenheit. 

Let me tell you about the chickens.

Living back in upstate New York, there are either more farms than ever before or I just never noticed them when I last lived here as a teenager. Of course given how often I was at the mall back then, maybe that’s the answer.

The other day I visited a new friend at her family’s farm. She also moved home recently, and is navigating what it’s like being up close and personal with loved ones as an adult. A kindred spirit. I met her in the garden, and not long after her cat strolled by wrapping her tail around my left calf as she passed.

It felt so peaceful there. Their pond, a field of wildflowers for the new bee hive, and a pretty farmhouse that must have a rich history judging by the worn white siding alone.

When we arrived at the bird coop with an assortment of chickens, geese, and ducks, several hens approached and waited patiently at our feet. They seemed to be greeting us in the way pets often sidle up to new visitors hoping for a belly rub or a scrap of food. I looked at my friend, curious, as she bent down in front of one of the hens.

“They don’t like to be petted, but sometimes I do anyway,” she grinned as she ran her hand along its silky maroon and black feathers.

If chickens can do the same full body shake that dogs do when their fur is matted, then that’s what happened next. The hen looked conflicted, clearly liking the attention since she continued to hover nearby and yet not knowing what to do about it.

I reached my hand down several times, but raised myself up again when I saw the chickens tense. If they didn’t want to be touched then I wasn’t going to force it, but I liked their presence a lot. I guess I was conflicted, too.

More birds strutted over and soon surrounded us in a semicircle. Just in case anything good was about to happen, they wanted to be part of it.

As my friend and I started to walk the dirt driveway toward my Civic parked by the old horse stable, all of them followed behind without a sound.

Her father met us near the barn.

“That never happens,” he said, nodding at the birds. “It’s something about you.”

I looked away, trying to hide my glee.

I’m sure it had everything to do with my friend feeding them out of her hand a few days prior, but I couldn’t help hoping her father was right. You see, I have a not-so-secret wish to be Snow White. The part about little birds landing on the end of her fingers as she sang to them. I would also like to be able to sing.

I left a couple minutes later, the birds dispersing as I said goodbye to them and hugged my friend.

As I drove away, I was reminded of a photo of my dad as a kid on his family’s farm.

This is what zufriedenheit looks like.

 

 

 

 

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On eternity, and the fleeting smell of lilacs

Last weekend was a friend’s birthday dance party. Sweating and jumping and singing loudly to Michael Jackson, and the most decadently delicious chocolate-caramel-pretzel cake that had to be sampled at 1:00 a.m.

Had to.

Midway through the evening, though, I felt the desire to leave.

I wasn’t done dancing as much as the introvert in me needed quiet. Right now. Without a word, mid-song, I walked through the dance floor and out the door. The air outside was the perfect combination of the fragrance of lilacs and other blooming trees, even more pronounced at night, and the comfortable warmth and slight heaviness of the weather contemplating rain.

The houses were mostly dark, still, by this time of night, as I walked the short, square blocks of Beacon, a small town in the Hudson Valley of New York State. One on the corner, with the lilacs, showed off a white picket fence under a nearby streetlight.

The crouched swaying and flails of dancing gave way to broadened shoulders and my head turned upward as I breathed in the night air.

Did I mention that it was perfect?

I wasn’t thinking anything. Nothing at all. It must have been why I kept smiling. Why I waved to the lilacs and stopped to smell them under the streetlight. How could I not? Night walk in Beacon - 5-16-15

As I turned another corner, there he was. Or should I say, He.

I don’t fancy myself a religious person, but I thought (a thought) that if I were, this would be the sign I had been waiting for. His arms outstretched. His immense shadow growing behind him with each step I took closer.

The party was within earshot again, the drum beats joining the scene in front of the church. A police car turned onto the block to check on the noise. Teenagers still further in the distance, rolling in on bicycles, their laughter giving them away. It all felt serene. Like floating. His arms looking effortless, and life feeling the same. The party was there. The music over there. The police car and teens, over there and there.

Though I’m also not the type to quote French poets, if I were I would know that Rene Char said:

If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.

Maybe I am that person after all.

 

Breaking my word addiction

Words create connection.

I believe that if we understand one another, then we love more easily. It’s why I’m a writer, to understand, to feel understood, and therefore to give and receive love.

Words can also get in the way of that connection. I can lean on them like a crutch when being silent is uncomfortable. I can over-share. (You’ve probably noticed.)

Taking this photo in the yard of my parents’ house in upstate New York was a helpful reminder:

 

 

After, I could not for the life of me figure out what to say about it as I uploaded it to Instagram.

It was seriously bugging me. I think that says more about my social media addiction, and how immediate I felt this needed to be shared, but it is also about words. I need them a little too much. Looking around, again on social media, I can tell I’m not the only one. We are a culture of over-sharers.

Of course if you really look at it, the photo says enough all by itself.

Does it speak to you?

Do you feel something while looking at it?

My eyes are drawn to the delicate fuzz of this first growth of the new season, like a baby’s skin, and then to how sunlight shines through the outstretched leaf exposing all of its veins. I was delighted that some of the branches were in focus, while others blurred.

I have words for this image now. It’s taken me four days to find them. Actually it’s taken me not finding them, enjoying the photo instead, reminiscing about the moment when it was taken, and then the words were there.

That seems about right.

Spring, and life in general, is fleeting. While I searched for words, this growth is already twice its size, and will be a distant memory in another week as everything else in the yard blossoms. Having the time that afternoon to appreciate this new little life, that is the true source of connection, understanding, and love.

I wonder how to create a balance between expression and enjoyment. How to allow things to be (eek!) unsaid. How wonderful it might be to feel my way through moments with the people I care about.

What would happen if we felt more and talked less?

Well, what do you think?

 

 

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