Ma’s Deep Pockets

February 18, 2017

I solemnly took her coat, a beautiful leather coat. A memento of sorts, the coat was something tangible to remember her by.

I claimed it as my own, a coat I’d probably never buy for myself. I still can’t imagine my mother wearing it and found no photos to prove she wore it. I must have had it in my possession for about a year after her death before I thought to actually wear it. We were headed to see a play. It was a cool Seattle autumn evening. The coat fit as if it were tailored for me.

Ma's Leather Jacket

Ma’s Leather Jacket

On our way to the car, I discovered pockets, deep pockets, to keep my hands warm. It was when I thrust my hands into ma’s deep pockets that I made my discoveries.

In the right pocket, I found a handkerchief. Perfectly clean, starched, and ironed. Instinctively, I put the hanky to my nose, as if to search out a trace of my mother’s smell. All I smelled were mothballs. Those of you reading this, who knew my mother, are laughing. I know you are, but it is no laughing matter! My mother had this thing about mothballs. Or, more accurately, she had a fear of moth infestations so she stuffed mothballs in closets, dresser drawers, coat pockets, and between our folded sweaters. My mother knew that mothballs would keep moths away. What she didn’t know was that mothballs are made of naphthalene, an insecticide, which gives off highly toxic fumes and vapors harmful to insects, wildlife, and humans.

The handkerchief

The handkerchief

In a split second, nose to handkerchief, I was back in my childhood home. The handkerchief transported me to a small brick house in NW Indiana, where the heating and AC vents carried no-longer-secret private conversations between my parents. Conversations about their monetary worries, concerns over the safety of their children, their health, our health, our futures carried through the vents with a frightening and embarrassing clarity. I remember once confessing to a priest about eavesdropping on my parents’ private conversations. I felt that guilty so as to bring my dark shame to the confessional box! I remember the priest taking an unnatural interest in my confession! Ah, the smell of that darned handkerchief!

Back to the autumn theater night in Seattle, my fingers next touched a tube of lipstick. Ma’s coral red lipstick! My mother didn’t wear make up, but on certain rare occasions, she’d put some lipstick on. For some reason, I hardly remember this. It’s a dim memory, only brought to the surface when I found the tube of red lipstick in ma’s deep pockets.

Ma's Coral Red Lipstick

Ma’s Coral Red Lipstick

For some reason the lipstick made me sad. I am trying to understand why it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because the lipstick is a testimony to the life my mother once lived. The tube of lipstick I found bears witness to my mother’s all-too-human life, one in which she wanted to feel more feminine, more beautiful. The tube of color to redden her lips unveils a woman, my mother, who was alive for a brief time. Holding the tube of lipstick makes me sad because I am reminded of her earthly existence, and all the complex feelings we humans may have about measuring up and concerns about how we should look and present ourselves to the world. I see her applying the red lipstick, perhaps in search of a boost of confidence and I continue to feel overwhelmed with sadness.

That same autumn evening in Seattle on our way to the theater, I found one last item, the most significant one, in ma’s deep pockets. I found my mother’s beloved saint card.  I couldn’t believe I now had her treasured prayer card in my possession.

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

My mother loved Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia is also affectionately known by Sicilians as La Santuzza, or The Little Saint. I used to see my mom pull out her saint card, covered in a clear plastic card holder. She’d lovingly caress La Santuzza, flip the card over, and I’d watch her silently lip the prayer on the card.

La Santuzza (1120-1160) is always depicted wearing a crown of roses. She is sometimes shown wearing dark thick fabrics because she cast off her riches and lived a monastic life in a cave. Her story is unusual: Rosalia was born in Palermo, Sicily, to Sicilian aristocracy (Frankish aristrocrats governing Sicily). Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses. Rosalia was a descendant of Charlemagne. Rosalia was a beautiful noble woman, who at a very young age, experienced a calling to devote her life to God. At age 13, she moved to a cave near the town of Santo Stephano Quisquina and devoted her life to prayer. She later moved to another cave on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo. She lived entirely alone and died alone.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

As a hermit, she was not venerated by her neighbors, royalty, or family. No one came to visit her. She died completely alone.

In 1625, during a period of plague, she appeared in a vision to a hunter near her cave. Her relics were discovered, brought to Palermo, and paraded through the street. Three days later the plague ended, intercession to Rosalia was credited with saving the city, and she was proclaimed its patroness. The traditional celebration of Rosalia lasted for days, involved fireworks and parades, and her feast day was made a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

Her festival is an annual celebration in Palermo, but I also found the following:

Rosalia is deeply revered as a saint to this day.  Her festival is a big bash, not only in Palermo, but also in Bensonhurst (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) and other Sicilian communities.  Monterey, California has a three-day fishing tournament and Italian heritage festival in her honor.

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

My mother must have gotten the card from Sicily because La Santuzza’s prayer is in Italian. On the way home on the cold autumn evening, I dug my hands into ma’s deep pockets. Perhaps like my mother, I found myself caressing the card covered by clear plastic. I didn’t read the prayer until I got home that night.

Below is the prayer on the reverse side of La Santuzza’s card (translated from Italian to English).  This is the prayer my mother lipped silently every day:

Santa Rosalia, pray to God for my family and me.

Through your powerful prayers, may we obtain health, life and salvation.

I also pray for this special need and intention

(make your intention

known).

O St. Rosalia, I promise henceforth to remember and follow your example of faith and love.

Pray for me and mine.

Amen

In Ma’s deep pockets, I discovered a cornucopia of treasures transcending time.

Winter at Green Lake

January 28, 2017

I didn’t get a mid winter break this year!  Maybe this is why I am officially tired of winter.  If only winter could be as short as this blog post.  It’s been one cold winter.  On January 17, Green Lake was completely frozen over.  That was the first time I have seen Green Lake freeze over.  The last time the lake froze was in 1972, long before I ever lived in Seattle.

IMG_2753

Today, however, felt balmy as the temperature reached 53 degrees. The lake is no longer frozen.  Buffleheads were frolicking in the water.  I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird land on a bare branch. Winter blooming sarcacocca filled the air with an intoxicating scent.  Skate boarders and in-line skaters sped along the trail. The day felt warm compared to the low temperatures we have had in the mornings and it seemed everyone was out walking.

Here are just a few photos taken today.  I feel so lucky to look out over the lake every morning when I wake up.

Horizontal view of winter trees and Green Lkae

Horizontal view of winter trees and Green Lake

Bare Trees and Winter Sky

Bare Trees and Winter Sky

Get Strong with Yoga

January 23, 2017

On Saturday, prior to the Seattle Women’s March, a group of yogis and I experienced first-hand how yoga postures, such as Warrior I, II, III , and Archer’s Pose, can help build physical and emotional strength.

As we moved from one posture to another, I could feel my body unlocking and becoming free.  As a yoga group, we were more present than ever.  We felt the strong loving presence of community.  A new unleashed energy was flowing! We were strong. Eagle Pose seemed to be a call to the two bald eagles flying overhead at the start of the Women’s March.  Tree Pose was an invitation for both men and women to be rooted to the earth while holding up the sky together. Long after the yoga session ended, I continued to see Brave Warriors practicing their right to free speech, concerned world citizens walking for Mother Earth and civil rights.  The yoga practice instilled a sense of peace, awareness, and internal strength.

Eagle Pose

Eagle Pose

To demonstrate the strength yoga imparts, I want to share what one participant from Saturday’s yoga session wrote:

Thanks so much for the heartfelt send off to an amazing day. During the Archer Pose, I pulled in the energy from the room and the positive energy from the universe. I held it in my heart and then released it back to the universe. It was a powerful feeling and a beginning to action.  I couldn’t have achieved that without yoga.  As I left, my warrior, archer, and om were dancing in my body all the way to the march….The whole day was over the top of my expectations. I still feel the positive energy in my body.

morning yoga at Town Hall

Morning yoga at Town Hall (Yes, there were a handful of men present, too)

The work of building physical, emotional, and spiritual strength continues with an all-levels WORKSHOP  I am offering on Saturday, January 28 from 3-5pm at Seattle Athletic Club (downtown Seattle).  If you are interested, please comment below (or email me) and I’ll be in touch with you.  SAC members and guests are welcome to attend.  The workshop is called STRONG because, simply put, in addition to so many other benefits, yoga makes you strong.

Postures for building strength include:

  • Warrior Poses
  • Archer’s Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Boat Pose
  • Horse Pose
  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Eagle Pose

Don’t worry, counter poses will be worked into the strengthening yoga sequence. Counter poses give the body a chance to stretch, rest, and relax. As a reward for your hard work and effort, there is the added bonus of a long deeply relaxing shavasana at the end of the session.  This workshop speaks to those who are building muscle mass as well as those who are in need of a greater range of motion in their already-strong bodies.

Warrior Shadows in Winter Sun

Warrior Shadows in Winter Sun

Just how does yoga help build strength?  Many exercises that build strength, such as weight lifting, are muscle shortening.  These strong contracted muscles are powerful, but they can’t be used effectively because the muscle fibers are short and restricted in movement.  Yoga can unlock strong muscles and give the strong muscles a larger range of motion.

Yoga increases flexibility and expands the fascia.  Fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle. Once the fascial structures expand, muscles can grow.  Flexibility can add to the strengthening or muscle growing aspect of yoga.

Yoga works to build strength through a method called “repeat effort”.  Below “repeat effort” is defined:

Repeat effort is  when we do something repeatedly and increase contractile proteins within the muscles, which increases force output.

Below is a repetitive sequence we experience every time we practice the Sun Salutations:
  • downward facing dog to
  • plank to chatturanga (yoga push down) to
  • upward facing dog to
  • downward facing dog.

Though Hatha Yoga does not offer a vinyasa flowing style of yoga, it does involve some repetitive sequences such as the one above.  During our workshop for strength, in order to experience “repeat effort” and reach a high level of strength potential, we will practice the Sun Salutations as well as the Warrior Series.

Yoga is key to building efficiently moving muscles and physical strength that has great functionality.  The yoga practice is a great way to improve overall health and performance in all activities.  Yoga builds strength and flexibility to enhance all activities and sports including golf, squash, basketball, swimming, skiing, cycling, running, hiking, and rowing to name a few.

Chair Pose at Seattle's Olympic Park (there is no chair behind me-optical illusion)

Chair Pose at Seattle’s Olympic Park (there is no chair behind me)

Yoga for Strength helps “synergize” your muscle groups.  Think of “synergy of muscle groups” as the cooperation of two or more muscles, muscles engaged in team work, muscles that work together in a harmonized way to help you with overall balance and daily actions that require you to be functionally strong.

Below are more ways in which yoga makes you STRONG:

  • Holding or sustaining yoga poses helps increase muscular endurance and stamina.
  • Yoga builds strength in the core stabilizer muscles of the abdominals, obliques, lower back, and pelvis.
  • The stretching and relaxation aspect of yoga gives your muscles, joints, and bones time to repair and grow.

If you are reading this and live in the Seattle area, I hope you’ll join me next week!

Double Plank!

Double Plank!

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

The Best Season

December 12, 2016

In the memoir, Poser: My Life in 23 Poses, author Claire Dederer talks about how my yoga classes often have a theme related to the seasons.  Claire was my yoga student for years, and wrote a book about her life and, in part, about me/my teaching, so she would know the truth about my interest in the seasons and how we are affected by seasonal changes. Spring fills us with hope!  We are more energetic in the summer.  Kids do much of their growing spurts in the summer.  We tend to shed more hair in autumn.  My mother used to say in Sicilian, “Cadano li castagni”, which translates to “chestnuts are falling” because my chestnut-colored shedding hair was everywhere. We need more rest in the winter.  We crave light foods in the summer such as seasonal fruits and vegetables.  In the winter, we crave warm soups and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and root vegetables.

Below is a poem I shared yesterday during the two yoga workshops I taught in Seattle.  The poem has to do with the seasons (!) and is followed by photos, shot throughout the years, representing the four seasons.  I took all of the photos with one exception: Rick took the tulip against the blue sky.  The author of the poem is Wu-men Huikai.  He was a Chinese Zen master who lived from 1183-1260.  He wrote poems about enlightenment and called his poetry “sacred poetry”.  He also wrote social, political, and anti-war poems.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring” by Wu-Men

SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING (Ocean Shores)

Fawns

Fawns (Ocean Shores)

Simone's poppy

Simone’s poppy (Simone’s garden)

Fragrant late spring rose

Fragrant late spring rose (Simone’s garden)

SUMMER

Summer Dahlia

Summer Dahlia (Carl’s garden in Stehekin)

Flower Power of Summer

Flower Power of Summer (Stehekin Garden)

Lilies in the Sun

Lilies in the Sun (Kelley’s garden)

AUTUMN

Color of Autumn

Color of Autumn (Fremont, Seattle)

Fire walking

Fire walking (Wallingford, Seattle)

Autumn Boots

Autumn Boots (Wallingford, Seattle)

A long stretch of Autumn

A long stretch of Autumn (Capitol Hill, Seattle)

WINTER

Jack Frost painted this fern.

Jack Frost painted this fern. (La Push, Washington)

Frosted vegetation

Frosted vegetation (La Push, Washington)

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Autumn Haiku Encore

December 9, 2016

As Seattle stands tall, bundled up against freezing temperatures and braced for the current snowfall,  I write this year’s final Autumn Haiku Encore.

As before, you will see a haiku poem followed by a photo/photos inspired by the haiku.  The haiku and photos appear in the order I received them.  The first one below is the Basho haiku Kevin received:

The smell of sake,

and the waves,

and the wine-cup

-Basho

Kevin put his photos into a collage

Kevin made this collage using his photos

Who was this sake-loving, nature-observing, student-of-humanity poet Basho?  Basho lived from 1644-1694.  He was born near Kyoto to a samurai family.  He abandoned the samurai warrior status he was born into in order to become a poet.  Over time, he was regarded as one of the greatest poets of Japan. As a poet he is credited with elevating haiku to a highly refined art form.

Once he became a poet, Basho left Kyoto for Edo (Tokyo) and became a haiku master (Sosho).  His name was not always Basho.  He was born as Matsuo Munefusa.  Over the years, he wandered all over Japan in search of imagery and composed poetry based on what he observed.  He also practiced meditation.  He was unconcerned with money matters, but was able to establish a small cottage in Fukagawa, Edo (Tokyo) due to a generous monetary gift from an admirer of his art.  At his cottage, Basho was gifted a banana tree, which he planted in his garden.  The banana tree, called basho-an in Japanese, became his favorite tree and he decided to name himself after it.

JD received the following haiku written by Issa, a poet and Buddhist monk, and was able to find a great old pine tree to go with it:

It has aged indeed

The pine tree that I planted

Now autumn’s ending

-Issa

300 year old pine tree

300 year old pine tree  “Of course this is a picture of the 300 year old pine from the Hama-Rikyu Onshi-Teien waterfront garden in Tokyo.  Alas, Tokyo had no real signs of Autumn, much less Autumn ending…

Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku...

“Here’s another angle, and a sign that tells about it being planted 300 years ago. Perhaps the Shogun who had it planted stood here many years later, at the end of Autumn, and reflected on this haiku…”

The sign in the above photo says, “The pine is named “300-year Pine” because it was planted in 1709, about 300 years ago, when the sixth shogun, Ienobu greatly repaired the garden.  Its majestic form, praising the great work, is reminiscent of the old days.  It is one of the largest black pines in Tokyo.”

And I watched Kim as she searched for her frog!  Luckily, Kim found two photos to go with her haiku:

The Old Pond-
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

-Basho

,,,

“The pond at Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion”

and below, the frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house

“The frog friend who lives in the garden at the Kimono Dressing house”

A note from Kim: “What I really wanted to submit was super difficult to photograph. It’s more of a mind picture and it is metaphorical. We all experienced it, many more than once. It is the image of the gaijin (foreigner) wearing the bathroom slippers OUTSIDE of the bathroom. That never failed to make a splash and produce the “sound of water”!

Wendy found a unique way to represent the following haiku by Basho via her photo below.

It is deep autumn

My neighbor

How does he live, I wonder

-Basho

deer

Wendy wrote the following: “From my photo attempts to represent one of Basho’s last written haikus (translated as ‘Deep Autumn” or “Deepening Autumn”), I chose this (above) photo from Miyajima Island.

I don’t think Basho was thinking about deer when he wrote this haiku, but I imagine that he hoped that readers would look broadly outward while finding personal connections in his words.”

Below: Wendy’s photo of the autumn foliage.  This photo is not enhanced in any way.  The colors are just as we saw them!img_1609

Long Dark Nights of Winter

December 6, 2016

Winter Solstice comes early to Little Renaissance.  Every year, we celebrate a Hatha Yoga Winter Solstice Retreat on the first weekend of December at Little Renaissance.   We celebrate early before the busy-ness of the holiday season takes hold.

Winter Solstice is a time of quiet firelight, a time to nurture dreams.  The dark clear nights reveal the bright stars.  Late at night, I can sit quietly in the hot tub and see shooting stars trailing across the  sky.  I celebrate the shortest day and the longest night of the year with a wonderful group of yogis.  We anticipate the rebirth of the sun and contemplate our own spiritual rebirth.  We see this time of year as a turning point and a time of year to renew energy.

I look out the window and see the garden boxes through sheets of rain.  The garden boxes look spent from having produced so generously all summer long.  Gratefully, the soil lies resting, patiently waiting for the warmer and brighter days of spring.   The resting soil of the cold winter days and nights reminds me that the future holds promise, always.  Come spring, seeds will germinate and take root.  Likewise, I believe the future will manifest our visions and dreams.

For now, while we wait for the rebirth of the sun, we stand still.  Winter Solstice is a time of repose, a time to light the wood stove, stoke up the heat, soak in the hot tub, sit quietly surrounded by lit candles, delve into a good novel, and dream.

Below are photos from our past weekend’s Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat.  This group of yogis has been coming to Ocean Shores biannually for 10 years running!

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Ready for winter winds: Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Pretty driftwood log

Pretty driftwood log

Vast Ocean Beach

Vast Ocean Beach  (Skye and Dan)

Remnants of an old boardwalk

Remnants of an old dock

Group Shot I

Group Shot I

Group Shot II

Group Shot II

A Forest Takes Root in the House

A Forest Takes Root in the House

Collage I put together from Skye's photos

Collage I put together from Skye’s photos

Second collage I put together using Skye's photos

Second collage I put together using Skye’s photos

Autumn Haiku

December 2, 2016

It’s already December!  Have I really been back from Japan for almost a month now?

On the first day the group was together in Japan, I gave everyone an index card containing a haiku translated into English. Each haiku had an autumn theme.  I asked everyone, if possible, to capture an image with their cameras to match their particular haiku.

A haiku poem traditionally contains a specific image which becomes a symbol for a given season.  For example, crows, red dragonflies, colorful leaves, full moon, moonlight, bamboo, sake, frogs, wild geese, cranes, and herons are common images or symbols for autumn haiku. It was a tough assignment I gave out.  It was not always possible or easy to capture the simple-yet-rich imagery depicted in the haiku.

I did, however, receive the following examples of Autumn Haiku with their corresponding photos below.

The first haiku below is the one I assigned myself (!).  I thought it would be easy to find a lone empty road, but I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted.  Instead, I captured the lonely beauty of the ancient cemetery at Mt. Koya.  The tombstones, tilted drunken sentinels standing watch next to ancient trees atop the forested mountain, were covered in moss.  Instead of a road, there was a footpath running the length of this vast cemetery.  I certainly would not want to brave this path alone at night.

Not one traveller
braves this road –
autumn night.

-BASHO

Cemetery at Mt. Koya

Lonesome path. Cemetery at Mt. Koya. The five stacked stones represent the five elements Earth, Water, Fire, Wind/Air, Space.

And Jeff was the first to submit a photo for his haiku!  Here is his assigned haiku and his photo from the bamboo forest:

Moonlight slants through
The vast bamboo grove:
A cuckoo cries

-Basho

Jeff's photo of the bamboo forest

Jeff’s photo of the bamboo forest

Bill was not able to photograph the solitary leaf of a kiri tree while in Japan, but when he returned to Vancouver, BC, he saw an image which would help him investigate the loneliness Basho describes:

Come, investigate loneliness
a solitary leaf
clings to the kiri tree

-Basho

Bill's photo and haiku below

Bill’s photo of the solitary leaf

Yoga: I Love Light

November 21, 2016

Whether he is in Japan or back at home, every morning Don wakes up at 4am and does his yoga practice.  At the end of his yoga practice and meditation, he recites the following mantra:

I am a child of light

I love light.

I serve light.

Light is in me

protecting,

illuminating,

supporting,

sustaining.

I am light.

Don was recently on the Japan tour.  One morning I asked him to share the above mantra with us as we did yoga.  Of the 13 full days touring Japan, we, as a group, had 10 sessions of yoga.  As usual, I am unable to take photos when I am teaching.  But luckily,  Jeff (and Karin) got a few good shots!  I only took some of these photos.

The first set of photos were taken on our cycling trip in Kyoto.  That day we had standing yoga in Kameyama Park.  Since we had been cycling all morning, I told everyone not to worry about bringing their yoga mats along.  And since the ground was a fine white pea gravel, we also wore our shoes.  We called the class Standing Yoga.  It felt so good to take in the clean fresh air of Kyoto!

Debby and Marc forming a bridge of friendship.

Debby and Marc forming a Bridge of Friendship.

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France that means Fly With the Wind)

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France which means “Fly With the Wind”)

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody (pant legs tucked in from the bike ride).

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Last shot for the Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we look we belong to a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

Last shot for  Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we belong in a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

See what I mean?

See what I’m saying??

Then we have lots of yoga photos from the first Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn with Hot Springs/Onsen) we stayed at on the island of Shikoku.  The room we had was unbelievable!  It was like a ballroom/atrium combo with glass windows overlooking the city of Takamatsu.  We did yoga in the evening, just before dinner and the city lights made for a dramatic and lovely backdrop to our yoga class.  One more thing: I had access to chairs so we did yoga using chairs.  Amazing what you can do using chairs for yoga!

Camel Pose

Camel Pose (Kim in the foreground)

Forward bends using the chair

Forward bends using the chair

Revolved Triangles!

Revolved Triangles! (Bill in the foreground)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting crocodile

Resting crocodile

Deeply Relaxed!

Deeply Relaxed! (Jeff!)

And photos were also taken at the Buddhist monastery at Mt. Koya.  I think that may have been the best room ever.  The floors were made  of tatami mats. There is a nice sweet grass-like smell that comes with tatami mats, which are made of rush grass.  They are gentle but firm.  The room we practiced in was cavernous.  There were several heaters which kept us warm.  This is a good thing because it was pretty cold on the mountain at night. The monastery had a great feel to it. In the morning we watched the monks chant, pray, and do their fire ceremony.  It was very peaceful and meditative. I think their good energy permeated the yoga space.  And it was quiet. A very quiet room with great acoustics so my voice carried over strongly.

Side stretching

Side stretching

Windmill

Windmill

Trees at the Monastery

Trees at the Monastery

Flip Your Dog!

Flip Your Dog!

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

Desert: A Healing Place

November 20, 2016

After coming back from Japan, I made a quick escape to the desert with Rick. We spent a few days in Palm Springs, California with friends Linda and Steve.  I had no idea how much I would appreciate this escape when we planned this trip months ago.  Linda and Steve jokingly call their desert home the “fat farm” probably because we ate low-fat healthy meals.  To further go with the theme, we went on three great calorie-burning hikes in the desert.  I love the “fat-farm”!

We walked through nature preserves, desert springs and oases where thick palms groves thrive, sculpted gardens and sculpture gardens, and national parks and trails.  Mockingbirds, rabbits, lizards, a coyote, cactus wrens, butterflies, dragonflies, and many other creatures treated us to viewing them.

How lucky to have spent a few days in the desert sun and air!  How lucky to have spent time, away from the onslaught of media, with like-minded friends whose values are a true inspiration!

Enjoy the slideshow from Palm Springs and the surrounding trails and places of nature.

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