Category Archives: The Gratitude Stash

Here’s where I collect my morsels of gratitude to save for when I’m feeling blue.

Do You Miss Poppy Fabric?

I don’t and here’s why.  Just a hop, skip, and a jump from my front door the best of what Poppy offered me is thriving under the Piedmont Fabric awning.  That’s because Lan Nguyen is still working her magic, outfitting us Oaklanders with plenty of fabrics and notions to make our visions reality.  I cannot count the number of times that Lan has given me an idea that has come to full fruition.  Were I a more skilled seamstress the results would surely be even better, but for me, it’s good enough to keep up my life long sewing habit.

My favorite thing about Poppy was standing at the cutting counter asking other customers what they had planned for their beautiful purchases.  Truth be told, Poppy was always something of an indigestible feast for my eyes.  I simply could not fathom the full extent of possibilities that it housed and that overwhelmed me (I am consistently put off by big stores of all kinds).  Piedmont Fabric is perfect for me – not too much, not to little, just right – every single time.  It bears mentioning that the prices are always very fair, clearly the proprietress is a seamstress herself.

Today Adele and I breezed in for some ribbon to finish my dress (by the way, both fabrics were purchased at Piedmont Fabric a while back).  I promise to post pictures soon, even in the likely case that not one-hundred-percent-pleased with the finished product.  Literally, there was exactly the amount of 100% silk ribbon that I needed on the spool.  Perfect every time!

I had to drag Adele out of there because I really must get this dress sewn!  (Brooklyn, NY or bust this Sunday!  I’ve got a wedding to attend.  Adele will be joining me for the trip and my boys will be staying at home with my mom.)  Adele’s got good taste, she went right for the Liberty cottons and was discussing some curtains for her place with Lan as I checked out.  Next time Adele….

Adele and Lan talk curtains

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few of my fondest memories of projects that came to life in conversation over the cutting table, Lan is quite the visionary.  There was the dress for our flower girl that I ended up making because my mom was not willing to tackle the, perhaps unconventional but prefectly princess-esque) lace adventure that Lan proposed.  There was the ideal lacy fabric for my wedding ball dress (it’s far more fun to dance in a proper dancing dress rather than an elaborate wedding gown, yes?) that took a serious effort on the part of many to get into my seamstress’s hands.  There was the nursery fabric that became all the accessories to the changing area and bassinet.  The fabric that became my boy’s first superhero costume to match my own (before he knew to have a preference for his halloween costume).  The two dresses that I simply had to make for myself while I was pregnant in order to avoid buying fabric for cute little baby dresses since in my heart of hearts I must have known that I was having a boy.  And much much more.  Piedmont Fabric constantly fuels my inspiration from start to finish!  I feel so grateful to have such a great shop so close.  Now all I need is a little more time to sew….

PS  If you love Piedmont Fabric as much as I do, please leave a comment with “Oakland Fabric Shop” in the body of your comment.  The more people who express their love, the longer we’ll have our fabulous shop!

My Pilates Lessons:

Be gentle.  Be kind.  Be forgiving.  Stay humble.  In every moment.  Toward each and every thing, living and not.  For every thought, every action, every word is reflected back into yourself.

This is what I’ve learned in the past few days, in three different ways.  First, in the most personal way, for my own body and the thoughts that I keep secret (mostly even from myself).  Secondly, in my work with a dear client.  And thirdly, from my current birds eye view of the broader Pilates community in which I used to be much more participatory.

I am blessed with getting to know Rupam Henry.  She brings a powerful blend of knowledge and spiritual intuition to her work with plants and our bodies.  She shared a mantra with me in relation to supporting my breasts which has had a powerful impact in just three days of practice.  Mostly because I realized how unkind, harsh, and unforgiving I’ve been with my body.  Directing words of apology, love, and gratitude toward my body has given me the opportunity to face all that internalized negativity and replace it with loving support.  I have read similar recommendations in the past (mostly in Louise Hay’s writings), but hearing the words in person really brought the message home to me and I was in a receptive place to try it out.  So often I’ve found this to be the case, that I come across plenty of information that sounds compelling and yet I do not take the step to implement it in my own life.  Until I have an experience.  Today I’m feeling particularly grateful for such experiences, they really have made the difference in my life time and again.

Last week, something came up for a dear client of mine.  I’ve been noticing a way in which she engages her muscles which indicates to me inhibition and tension rather than coordination and optimal function.  So for quite a while I’ve been attempting to help her change that pattern.  But my attempts were in vain.  But last week I said something that sounded an alarm for her because I pointed out that perhaps there was an emotional component to what was happening physically, and so she dug into what was happening with two other practitioners who also offer her support.  I had the opportunity to hear from one of those practitioners and while there was a lot of information shared, what I came away with was be gentle and be kind.  An excellent reminder.  Our bodies are so sensitive, they contain so much.  And we are blind to most of it.  It really is best to approach our bodies with gentleness and kindness.  As a teacher I am always trying to facilitate this.  But sometimes my message gets lost in translation.  Yesterday when my client and I reviewed what had happened over the week, I began to see that I had been unwittingly leading her toward a very different experience than the one I intended for her to have.  Clearly, I hadn’t realized this.  And neither had she until I made the observation about the possibility of an emotional component to what was happening.  I spent some time feeling badly for having contributed to her frustrating experiences by continuing down a path that wasn’t working for her.  But then I remembered to be kind, gentle, and forgiving to myself.  And furthermore, I realized that even though some frustrations were faced head on, a resolution was the final destination.  The two other practitioners helped tremendously, my client found some more information online that helped her to do what I’d been trying in vain to get her to do.  All was well.  I have some new information to learn since my client passed on the resources that had been so helpful to her, and I have yet more gratitude for the support of those two practitioners, since in helping my client they also helped me.

The interpersonal dynamics within the Pilates community seem to be in a state of dramatic expression right now.  While all I know of this is what I read in perhaps a string of 10 comments at a time on an online forum (I believe that the thread I was reading had several hundred – ugh), it is upsetting nonetheless.  I am reminded of past arguments which have reached the status of legend, and of the few to which I’ve had more immediate exposure.  Perhaps, it makes sense to point out that everybody exposed to these heated and dramatic interactions is affected.  I have often wished that the people who participated would have considered this simple truth.  Because whatever upset they felt compelled to express harshly has left it mark.  And I wonder what the ultimate gain in the original expression was.  Was it simply to vent some emotion?  If so, I’d like to suggest that perhaps that’s better done in a more contained arena.  Was it meant to make an important philosophical point?  If so, I’d recommend more editing and consultation in the ways political discourse, as there are savvy ways to convey seemingly indigestible pieces of truth.  But I digress, as it is so easy to do when sensitivities have been inflamed.  My main point is this:  be gentle, be kind, be forgiving, stay humble.  From that place I think that we will all find a way of doing the work that clearly means so much to us.  And from building real bonds of collegiality which will only strengthen our resolve to do the work that we love.  I think also, that if we bear those four tips in mind we’ll also come to an even more important and life-altering realization:  that the only one hurting us is us.  I believe that it was Byron Katie who really gave me the framework for understanding this essential truth to the workings of our minds:  that our thoughts, rather than the circumstances of the external world, are what do us in.

It’s been up on the shelf above my computer for a couple years at least, because it’s a notion that merits frequent consideration given how easy I make it for my mind to run a muck:  If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.  – Marcus Aurelius

I wish each person who reads this blessings for a beautiful day and a beautiful life.

The Breath That Binds Us

I’ve been meaning to write a reflection of my gratitude upon meeting Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen last month, but only now am I completing the task.  She generously offered a workshop in support of an inspiring community project a little north of where I live in El Cerrito.  I should have known that a  luminary such as Bonnie would be associated with The Fountain Project but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Wen Wu School that it dawned on me that after thirteen years I was once again in the arena of Chinese martial arts and movement training.  The most enduring reason for my moving to California upon graduating from College was to study with a woman who I found entirely inspiring.  I loved my nearly two years of t’ai chi chuan study with her.  It was my version of church.  But my professional aspirations led me in other directions and I’ve always promised myself that I’d return to the movement study of the I ching.  (I’ve reasoned that it’s the sort of physical practice that lends itself to the aging body and so it seems okay to let that study rest for now while I occupy myself with back-bends and headstands.)  For all that and more, I was immediately contented to have arrived at the threshold of Body Mind Centering.

In what I hope to be the first of many workshops that I took with Bonnie, she gave us the story of our breath which stayed with me and deepened with time.  Bonnie strikes me as someone who has an extensive knowledge of the scientific understanding of our bodies.  She applies that knowledge to her experience.  She has a gentleness with which she seems to approach all endeavors.  She manages to humanize science for the very practical purpose of enhancing our physical experience.  Her work ends up being a beautiful and perfect blend of knowledge and experience, body and mind.  Working with her solidified an idea for me:  where body and mind line up, spirit is present.

What Bonnie said about the breath had to do with how it enters our body and is dispersed throughout our cells, and then how it exits our body.  She was making a point, if I remember correctly, about the flow that defines life.  How trees produce oxygen which flows in to our bodies, how we distribute it and make use of it internally, and how carbon dioxide flows out of our bodies to serve the trees.  The cycle is completed, not derailed, by us.  We are part of the cycle.  She made the point that while we think of the trees as providing something useful to us, we don’t think of us as providing something useful to the trees.  This seemed important to me because our minds, and our social nature tend to hold us separate from the natural world.  Given our inextricable participation in the natural world, this illusion of separateness is problematic.

But it was during a bought of insomnia that it occurred to me that this important connection is in every breath that we take.  It just proves how fundamental our connection to our world is, so much that we take it for granted.  Every breath that we take, links us to our very natural place in this very natural world.  It is nothing more than our minds that hold us separate from this reality.

While I often entertain ideas of spending more time in nature, following the pastoral dream, or any number of earthy fantasies, I have always led an urban existence.  And while we may someday retreat to a more rural setting, I must confess that I really am a city mouse at heart.  That’s why my nocturnal revelation was so important to me.  Like Bonnie’s class it wiped away so much of my self-criticism.  Where ever I am, I am part of nature, I cannot change that.  I can ignore it, or deny it, but those are purely mental exercises.  The reality remains the same, I am part of the natural world, within and without.  Even if I live in a concrete jungle.

We spent the majority of our three hours together exploring our lungs.  This was an initiation into my nocturnal revelation that followed a week or so later, because just sensing my lungs in action was tremendously healing for me.  Completely unintentionally and in spite of so much effort to the contrary, I’ve managed to implant a lot of negative ideas about my body in my habitual thought patterns.  It probably has to do with the persistent pain and discomfort that I’ve experienced for nearly twenty three years.  Or maybe it has to do with being a Pilates instructor.  As much as I love Pilates, and as much as I endeavor to act from a place apart from right and wrong;  Pilates has a definite form.   And that form is the key to unlocking so much of what the system has to offer.  Or maybe it just has to do with being human.  We can be a rather negative lot.  Somehow, feeling my body move just as it does felt so good and reassuring to me.

This new sense of awareness of my lungs and my heart has opened up a new avenue of exploration.  In the coming months I’m eager to look into the deeper layers of my body.  I have the idea that Pilates provides an excellent platform for such investigations and I’m looking forward to seeing how my Pilates practice permeates through all the layers of my body.  For now though, I’m so grateful to have met Bonnie and to have experienced a little bit of her work.  It was at once a salve and an initiation.

Creative Retreat

Retreat seems to be the best word to describe my past week.  Retreat in many senses of the word.    We are back in Oakland after a rather challenging weekend away from our usual life.  I attended the blessingway of a dear friend and enjoyed being part of a circle of women immensely.  While we were away I started making a mobile for the future enjoyment of her unborn child.  Silly me, I thought that I’d be able to complete it over the weekend.  (To my credit, I ended up stitching for a few hours less than I’d planned when I came up with that notion.)  Here are the starting materials, I’ll share a photo here when it’s all finished.

mobile materials

 

And since it seems best to focus on happy thoughts when recovering from a strenuous time I’m sharing the little sweater that my mom kindly knit for the little babe.  It is just so cute!  (And even cuter once I remembered that it was my duty to add the buttons.)  Babies and their cuteness make so many things better!

baby sweater

 

My friend has moved up to the country where so much of what I love about life in the Oakland area is non-existent.  It’s strange to me to think of how much a place has to do with one’s experience.  I’m always so relieved to come home to Oakland, which says a lot about why I chose it for my home.  And why I should count my blessings for being able to live out many of my desires, while I continue to plant seeds for the fruition of others.  These days, with so much at my fingertips with the internet, it’s difficult to remember the days of my youth when so many of my aspirations (that are now my reality) existed completely in my own head.  While there is indeed a new level of accessibility at our fingertips we are still in many ways bound by the realities of time and space and our places in it all.  Perhaps it is those boundaries that have flared my frustrations over the past few days.  I am what I am, other people are what they are and there is no amount of imagining that can change those realities.

One thing that I’m bringing back from that relatively near and yet so foreign place is a new taste for cheese.  My friend offered me some of the most delicious cheese, I think that I’m going to have to pay my local cheese shop a visit and beg them to offer it, if they don’t already.  If you ever see this package, by all means buy it and enjoy some with me in mind!

delicious cheese!

Today I will nurse my wounds, and reclaim myself.  Today I will focus on the terrain of my imagination and that of others, in the quiet of my own mind.  I just finished book five of The Narnia Chronicles  (yes, I’m following the original publication order in this my first run through the entire series.  I am so satisfied to be finally reading each and every word, it’s been decades in coming to this.)  There is something so comforting in the process of creating, be it in the doing, the witnessing, or the enjoyment of the finished work.  More and more I’ve come to see just how important creating is to us humans.  It is an expression of our fundamental nature.  Whether it is with stitches, words, movements, strokes, or any of the myriad of creative means that we humans employ, creating is such a universal salve for the weary.

As I wish for myself, I wish for each reader of this post:  a creative retreat.  When ever, where ever it is needed.

 

 

Saying Goodbye

I just found out that one of my longstanding clients died today.  I am left with sadness and a curious sensation that I do not have the standard outlets of grief.  Having clients, I suppose is similar to having colleagues.  Our relationships are based on the work that we do.  We forge friendships which have a particular container.

Given that my work has mostly been one on one with people, the friendships that I have with my clients are intimate and they stand alone.  In this moment as I am thinking about this person who was so dear to me for many years, I have no one to cry with, no one to remember her with, no one to talk about just how special I felt to have her in my life.  It strikes me as rather strange.  But perhaps this is just how death is.  The emptiness that is there when a person is no longer with us is universal, only the particulars vary.

In my case, today, I have this space that I’ve created here on the internet.  And I am grateful for it.  To have a little place to carve out some time for grieving, is important in this world of ours that tries so desperately to ignore sadness and grief.  As this friend of mine has been facing today for the past few months (she was diagnosed with cancer and knew that her days were most likely few), I too have been considering these moments that I am now living.  I interpret them with my own ideas of death and of spirit and sometimes I just wonder how all those ideas measure up to the reality of it all.

That’s another funny thing about the sort of intimacy with strangers that typifies the Pilates instructor’s relationship to her (or his) clients:  while there is a closeness, there is also a clear boundary.  That makes it easy for me to hold a space in my heart for this friend to just be what she needs to be and die how she needs to die.  I have no demands of her, I have no expectations other than for her to be herself in life and in death.  Which also makes the grief itself feel rather vacuous.

All I know is that she is gone and I cannot believe it.  I cannot imagine that my son will not see her again.  Her’s was one of the first names that he said, he was always so happy to see her, and she him.  And while I made sure to write her a letter, so that I would not think of words unsaid and so that she would know of my love for her as she faced a great challenge, I am left with a small regret.  She wanted to give my son a little present, something from her purse that he and she would look at every time she was in the studio.  And when she offered, I said no, not yet.  Surely we will see you again.

Saying goodbye is strangely indefinite.  Even in the most definite of cases.  As in all aspects of life all we can do is our best and trust our hearts to do the rest.

 

Links for Mamajoy

Here’s a quickie post with some links that I’m grateful to have enjoyed in the past week thanks to bloggers and friends.  Little tidbits of mirth and inspiration are always good to share, yes?  Indeed!

The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

22 Alternatives to Punishment

It’s allright to cry!

Worry about yourself!

Give yourself Two Minutes

Happy Mothers’ Day to Mamas everywhere!!!  I’ve been saying it for years and will continue for years to come:  parents have the most important job on the planet.  Hug a mama today, if not with your actual arms, then at least with your heart.

Blogosphere Meets Real Life

It’s been a while since I peeked in the Smitten Kitchen and was immediately inspired to get cooking. Mostly because I’ve been following a new sort of diet (I know, I know, I still haven’t posted an update. Coming sometime in the future…I promise. There’s been a lot of work on the home front in the past couple months). But today, I was in just the right sort of mood to follow a whim and whip up a cake during my babe’s nap. And I did. I substituted palm sugar for the sugar and coconut milk for the milk and coconut for the almonds. And since this isn’t a food blog, I’ll stop there. I ended up with a lovely cake cooling in the pan. And a real sense of satisfaction paired with eager anticipation.

Thursdays are our TSH pick up day. And somehow with the nap time which keeps getting later and all the fun that my son has pulling all the jars to be returned out of the bag – while I’m putting them in the bag – and making sure that each milk jar has a lid and all sorts of other exercises in order, we are more often than not departing within a very short time of their closing.

Today, I thought that it would be best if before we left I also turned the cake out of the pan, that way it would be ready for the final slicing and pastry creaming steps upon our return. Since I didn’t really follow the recipe and my topping was much looser (still quite tasty) and buttery in a slippery sort of way. My flip quickly became a flop onto the counter. And the cake just sort of collapsed all over the place. Oh no! That is precisely what I said. Repeatedly. So many times, that my son joined in. So there we stood saying oh no over and over again while I got out a spatula and began scraping the cake off the many surfaces that the flop enveloped (sadly, our counters are rarely clear of stuff).

When the cake just sort of turns itself wrong-side out in front of you, there really is nothing better to do than to tuck in. And so we did. I got out the pastry crème filling and dropped a few dollops overtop the mess of cake that I’d scooped into a bowl and we got to eating. Logically. It was very tasty. My son repeatedly asked for more. I mostly gave him cake only (with not even a twinge of guilt since I used palm sugar – and hardly any for that matter). There was just a hint of sweetness in that warm moist cake, an afternoon delight. And quite a pleasant result for what had very recently been a big OH NO.

But. Remember that we had been heading out the door? There was still a sliver of a chance that we’d make it to TSH by closing. But then we landed in a sea of traffic. Unusual traffic. My son started saying oh no again. I had to laugh. Lucky for us the folks at TSH are easy going and so when we showed up at 4:10 they let us in and we got our big ol’ bag of food.

After our food pickup I’d been planning on visiting the Lawrence Hall of Science for a quick first time experience since they close at 5p. Foiled again. This time there was a demand for milk and a very strong desire to play in the car. After 20 minutes of car fun in the hot sun – which also included my mistakenly setting off the car alarm two times – we headed home.

And after all that it seemed to me that it was time for another serving of cake. My son agreed. Thanks as always for sharing Deb! From your picture perfect to our make do, it was a fun ride.

Embracing Play

In a rare moment of relaxation for our little hard-working family, we made an uplifting discovery. This past weekend we headed to the Berkeley Marina to take in some beauty. While we were there we saw all kinds of neat Berkeley activities going on, but perhaps the coolest thing we saw was the Adventure Playground. My husband and I both love to make things of all kinds and are looking forward to all sorts of fun activities of that sort once our boy is ready. (He seems to be of our ilk, one of his current favorite activities while I’m sitting and writing is to use an allen wrench to unscrew the chair that I’m sitting on. My husband has helped significantly with encouragement, which I find a bit perplexing. He assures me that undoing one screw won’t make the chair collapse under my weight – oh good.) To know that a place like Adventure Playground is just a quick drive away from our place is heartening. Although, as we watched with great pleasure and utter amazement, my husband and I both had the same thought: we wouldn’t want to share with so many other kids. But we are both only children and neither of us grew up in such a highly populated area as this east bay of ours.

Anyway….here’s to embracing play! And here’s my expression of gratitude for Berkeley, and cool public spaces like the Adventure Playground. And to the people who came before us and did the work of bring the Adventure Playground into reality. And to those who keep it going. There is so much good being done in this little world of ours!

Mirror, Mirror

It’s good to have friends. It’s good to share our stories with friends. Right now I’m feeling grateful for such things. Today, a friend shared a recent insight that she had about herself and I must say that the more I think about it, the happier I am to have heard what she said.

Her child is older than mine, and has now passed out of infancy and toddlerhood (and that lovely combination of the two which we currently inhabit) into childhood. She is noticing a sense of relief within herself which gave her the idea that perhaps, she’s just one of those people who doesn’t love babies. You know, how some people love babies, some people love 3 year olds, some people love teens, etc.

It seemed relevant to share my MFT’s common interpretation of developmental stages to my present life challenges. I don’t think that I put that very clearly. Often times, in present day, my therapist will call to my attention my son’s developmental stage, and point out to me how that may relate to my life at his particular age, and how that might have an impact on my present emotional experience. The idea, more or less, being that in the act of relating to my son, I’m recalling my early experiences, many of which were somewhat traumatic for me. This framework of analysis makes a lot of sense to me. And it seemed to resonate with my friend as well.

It certainly goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve had an incredibly difficult year and why others experience similar challenges throughout the certain years of parenting their kids.

I am grateful for the ways that we mirror each other. Mostly, right now, I’m grateful for the reflections that are easy to see. But I guess, the truth is that I’m grateful for all of it. Even the really ugly reflections that we’d prefer not to see, because those are after all, the really important ones. And when we look them square in the eye, there is just another person looking back at us.

Here’s to looking at ourselves more clearly through the lens of our closest relationships!

Nothing Like a Good Bumper Sticker to Keep the Thoughts Coming

So this entry is sort of a combo one, which is why I put it in two categories. Life in Oakland is always interesting. Sometimes in a vexing sort of way. Sometimes in an inspiring sort of way. Sometimes in an enlightened sort of way. You get the idea.

Here’s a bumper sticker I read, and I have to say that I’m still a little confused. But it got me wondering, marveling, chuckling (pretty much in that order too). And I like that in a bumper sticker. A sort of stick to your brain kind of thing, an intellectual version of soaked muesli for breakfast. I like things that require some mulling over.

Here it is, in all it’s strangeness. See what you can make of it:

“The hardest thing about a zombie apocalypse will be pretending I’m not excited”