song of myself (it’s my birthday)

from iPhone 320

Holy crap. It’s my birthday.

That used to mean something. I used to wake up expecting miracles- gained knowledge, growth spurts and special treatment. I went to sleep the night before thinking of all the fabulous things I dreamed of and praying that every wish would be granted. Birthdays were to be held to high standards of greatness with me as the princess. I looked forward to gifts wrapped up in bows and big slices of ice cream cake.

And now. Now, all I want is the day to pass without catastrophe. That, along with time for quiet reflection, strong tea, bare feet and family. Add to that wish a day that feels leisurely with sunshine that covers my face and sunscreen that works. Gifts be damned. I want the miracle of peace and the wonder of family. I want moments of clarity where I notice the sounds and smells that surround me and a day that goes by with me being present for every single moment.

Mostly, I want to be alive in the bounty of the earth (as sappy as that sounds).

Yesterday I started the day by reading Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself. In its entirety. I started by looking for the part about containing multitudes, and ended up eating up every line the way I devour a bag of popcorn before the movie even starts. I read the poem as though it was advice I needed to memorize. From the beautiful parts to the sexy parts to the challenging parts to the parts that left me tilting my head and furrowing my brow in confusion. Like it was the wisdom this birthday contained and Whitman was handing it to me in the pages of this very second hand book. The book that sat on the bedroom shelf for years, ripening for this very day.

And then I stepped out into the world, running the usual Saturday errands. All of Whitman’s words fell away as I busied myself with distractions and became overwhelmed by all of my self-imposed chores. I found myself thinking in the old pattered princess ways: I deserve to be celebrated; I shouldn’t have responsibilities during my birthday weekend; It’s my (insert whiny voice) birthday…

Oh, how easy it is to slip into old patterns.

When I was around 8 years old, I had a little book about a witch, a ghost, and a ghoul (or something like that) that lived deep in the woods. They looked like little children dressed up like these things, but they had no parents and they relied on each other to get through the day. I never questioned the oddity of that, because I loved the stories. One that stands out is the one where the witch was having a birthday. She expected to wake up wiser and with more witch powers than she had the day before. She not only expected it, but she knew it. In her smugness, she prepared to be this wise and powerful witch. I think she also expected to be taller, but that’s beside the point…the point is, she didn’t wake up with anything she expected. She woke up to a day like any other day, at least in her mind. And yet her friends offered their sweetly wrapped gifts and supported her in her disappointment, even though she was downright nasty to them and spent the day stomping around and sulking.

I can’t remember the exact ending of this particular book, or whether there was a moral or not (of course there was). What I remember learning from reading the book, though, is that birthdays aren’t about becoming something we didn’t work to become or about receiving anything outrageously fancy (I’m still learning this). Birthdays are about noticing and celebrating the multitudes that make up our individual selves and honoring the world in which we live.

Yes, I still have princess tendencies. And I still want to be celebrated from time to time. But the gifts I want are the gifts that come from the heart- those sweet moments that happen when there isn’t an agenda or an expectation for an outcome. Time with people I love and some time for myself. Moments to reflect on what I am grateful for and opportunities to step into nature. Because that’s what really matters. Well, all of those things…and cake.

choosing to blossom.


Pardon my absence. I’ve been using springtime as an opportunity to sprout; to push through a thick layer of earth and reach toward the sky in hopes that I will develop flowers. It’s been lovely, really. And more challenging than I ever imagined.

 That’s germinating.

My work and my personal life have been stretching me in ways I never thought possible. Which is what it takes to bloom, I think. No. I believe it. Because it has been those times in my life when I have gathered everything I thought I could possibly have in myself to achieve what I never thought possible, only to find out that I had that much and more.

 That’s sprouting.

I learned how to blossom from an early age- watching my mother dig (literally and figuratively) to make plots of abundance out of very little. The soil was often rough and the tools were frequently rusty, but she tended her family garden with courage, wisdom, grace, and, often, pure stubbornness. I’ll always love my mother for that. Out of adversity and challenge grew a plentiful crop of goodness.

That’s cultivating.

As a kid, I fought against all it took to make a garden grow. Chores were a drag. I didn’t understand that tending the garden by weeding and mulching and loving unconditionally was what made the veggies so delicious and the berries so sweet. I only knew that I wanted the end result without all of the work. I keenly remember the taste of the bright orange carrots picked fresh from the soil when I wanted a snack and was kicked out of the kitchen. My memory is ripe with images of the raspberries I picked for my morning cereal, our trusty dog at my side. And yet I hold the distinct memory of rolling my eyes and stomping my feet when I was given the chore of weeding row after row in our vegetable garden- thinking that my time was far better spent hiding out in front of the basement television watching the fuzzy re-runs of Charlie’s Angels or Eight is Enough.

That’s growing.

Jumping forward to the present, I love every part of gardening. I especially love to get down and dirty, bare feet touching the earth as I squat over the vast expanse of luscious soil, searching for another space to tend. I adore the process of watching something grow from seed to plant, unfurling into fullness. I like knowing where my food comes from and witnessing the seeming miracle of nature’s bounty. And mostly, I enjoy the memories that come from placing my body near the earth.

Every time I step foot on the earth, my senses come alive, and I remember that I am part of something so much larger than myself. I honor my roots, and experience what can only be described as full body sensory memory where my toes spread out, my skin tingles, my nostrils engage, and my eyes take in the world as brighter and more expansive.

That’s blooming.

Plants often need to go through challenging times to blossom; winter, drought, a harsh pruning. These experiences are sometimes the very things that provide what it takes for a plant to pull up what is necessary to push forward a bloom. And that’s life. Harshness can be just harshness, sure. Pain and suffering can be terrible and debilitating, yes. But sometimes it’s these times of challenge that provide the environment for shiny new growth.

That’s surviving. That’s thriving.

That’s beautiful.

how changing my mind opened my heart.

One month ago, I told most of my friends, colleagues and close relatives (and anyone interested in listening) that I was not at all interested in getting another dog. Not even close to interested. Our beautiful dog Emma died last spring after years of painful decline, and my heartbreak and grief slowly manifested into an appreciation for the freedom that not being a dog owner allowed.

Without a dog, I could ride my bike home from work without rushing or worrying. I took my time, noticing things that didn’t enter my sensory experience when I was hurriedly making my way to check in on our geriatric girl. Without a dog, our small condo no longer needed extra space for dog food, snacks, toys, or a dog bed (though we did have some of these due to our continual dog sitting stints and our visiting neighbor dogs). Without a dog, I only needed to drag the vacuum out once a week at the most, and I could wear black clothing and fleece without needing to pretend that I was wearing mohair.

I was in awe at the new-found peace that existed in our pet-less home space as I spread out on the floor to soak up the entire sun spot on my own or ate popcorn without having two (or more) begging eyes glued to my bowl. I loved the spaciousness that not walking a dog afforded me, and for a few months I worked hard to use my time wisely, filling side tables with books that I planned to read and breaking into impromptu yoga sessions (just because now I could do such things without distraction).

Without a dog, though, my partner moped around dropping hints at her longing for another canine companion. Without a dog, what did we have to talk about or take pictures of? Without a dog, where was the meaning in our lives?

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. But there is truth in the fact that we are inherently animal people. Our identity as a couple has been as pet owners for the entirety of our relationship. Not having a pet to focus on shifted the way we responded to one another in the silent emptiness of our home- in both good and challenging ways…

So, just less than a month ago, we bit at a friend’s anonymous link notifying us of the need for a home for an 8 year old beagle/ cattle dog mix. Within minutes of seeing this little dog’s picture and description, I had the application filled out and emailed to Vashon Island Pet Protectors. An hour later, we had set a time for the weekend to meet her.


Fast forward to today: here I am typing happily away with a little dog snoring at my feet. The couch is covered in wiry dog hair, there are animal shaped toys strewn around the floor along with a gnarly looking bone, and there’s a leash hanging near the back door with a small plastic bag tied to the looped handle. We are officially the happy companions to “Junebug”, a little dog with a loud bark and a huge ability to make us smile. She’s by no means “perfect”, and she has some issues that I could live without. But I’d rather not live without her.  Largely, I’m thankful for Junebug’s imperfections. They mean she’s unique. They remind me that she can love me despite my own issues. We can be perfectly imperfect together.

Mostly, I’m thankful for the ways Junebug reminds me to wake up to the world around me; the sounds and smells that fill the park near our house, the significance of structure, and the importance of making time for play. It took this little dog to remind me to wake up just in time for spring blossoms. And it took this little dog to remind me that I can love bigger and stronger than I gave myself credit for.

               –  Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom-

the way we praise or don’t praise-
the way we love
or don’t love-
but the way

we long to be-
that happy
in the heaven of earth-

in memoriam

In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery  The Little Prince

three goodbyes in one year’s time

A year ago, our humble little condo floor was covered in small, washable rugs and we had a cat- scratched sea foam 50’s era sectional in the living room. It smelled like a mix of old dog and pee, and we didn’t care. Our geriatric cattle dog Emma was still making her way in the world, despite having no control of her bladder and a limited ability to walk further than a few blocks. She still had a spark in her eyes, though, and we were glad to have her around. A year ago, we spent a good portion of every Sunday drinking tea at our elderly friend June’s house. We spent hours and hours listening to stories about The Great Depression, hidden places to find booze during prohibition in Seattle, and sailing the Puget Sound. June enjoyed spinning a yarn with her stories and loved nothing more than an engaged friend or two who were willing to make a pot of tea and sit with her. A year ago, I was waking up early every Monday to dash off to yoga class, but not before hearing the phone ring and chatting briefly with Reen’s mom Patsy who called like clockwork at 7:00 am. Patsy had a gift for gossip and a wickedly good sense of humor that I cherished. Even in a few minutes on the phone, she created a connection that many people can’t craft in hours.

Funny how so many things can change in one year; the absence of a canine companion, the adjustment of furniture, the shift in Sunday schedules and the silence of the phone on Monday mornings, to name a few. One year passed, and three beings who meant so much to our days and weeks are gone. One year passed, and we aren’t the same people we were before.

Emma died at home this spring and we were fortunate to be there to hold her paws and kiss her sweet fur as she breathed her last breath. Patsy died in the same hospital she retired from as a psychiatric nurse so many years ago. She suffered a brief but painful decline at the end of summer, leaving us with the scent of fallen leaves as we departed New England for Seattle with tear soaked cheeks. Our dear tea companion June died just a few weeks ago while her husband and I held her hands and talked her into her next adventure. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to read June her favorite Truman Capote story A Christmas Memory the day before she died. I like to think it brought her comfort. It certainly brought that to us.

heart stretching, soul expanding, life altering grief

2012 was a year of major losses and a year that taught me more about love and of spiritual connection than any I have had so far. Even my dealings with cancer could not prepare me for the heart expanding experience of sitting vigil with our beloved dog and with two women who taught me in immense ways about love, faith and friendship. Even nine years of experience working in grief support with a hospice agency did not prepare me fully for the immensity of my own grief and the ways I would be physically, mentally and spiritually stretched by these losses. That’s the thing about grief, though. Every loss is unique. Every person is unique. Every situation…unique.

One of the many ways my yoga practice has helped me in the past year (aside from my little bits of midnight asana and meditation in the confined space between the hospital bed and the radiator) was to recognize that it doesn’t help to judge any experience or any thing or any one as fundamentally good or intrinsically bad (and yes- I need to remind myself of this often). Sometimes things are just the way they are. And the one thing that can be counted on, thank goodness, is that every experience, thing, and person not only can, but will change.

So, here’s to a new year of experiences and connections, losses and gains. As much as I love new beginnings, I also love pausing to think about how I’ve been blessed and transformed by the souls in my life; living and deceased. Right now, I light three candles and pause for Emma, Patsy and June. These three remarkable souls brightened my life and reminded me in equal measure to listen from the heart, to laugh from the belly, and to get up from time to time to shake it out and play.

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