Monday, November 30, 2009


In New England, at the Reitsma Thanksgiving celebration, one honors what our forefathers/mothers had to do by chopping wood! I like it.....

....but, I'm not that great at it! The key component to not ending up at the ER is to keep your feet apart in case your axe misses entirely and comes winging back at you. We learned the following:
1. The more wood you chop, the more turkey you get to eat.
2. Having your little cousin shout at you "prove your manliness" does not help with your accuracy.
3. Safety goggles are a good thing.
4. You can remain stylish while chopping:)
Hope you all had a great day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Off the Grid

On this Thanksgiving Eve, as we wait for the arrival of family, make side dishes, and pick up pies from a local farm stand, I am excited about joining my husband's family for a great get together tomorrow. I am even more excited because my generous sister-in-law is hosting all 27 of us at her house.

Still, my memories wander back to the best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had. I had just finished graduate school and a trip across the country. I was working at a residential school for at-risk youth and worked a late shift on Wednesday evening. No money, no time off, and all my family in Texas.

Early, early Thursday morning, a friend and I packed a turkey sandwich, a thermos of hot chocolate, and drove up to the White Mountains. We found a trail off the Kancamagus river, covered in snow, and slowly hiked along the river. We broke for lunch and were soon joined by several happy little chickadees. It was their song that I happy they were to have two hikers appear out of nowhere and share some crumbs.

The things I long for and remember are always found outdoors. We need so much less than we think we do.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all and I hope you get a chance to go off the grid for at least one major holiday. You will remember it always.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon....A Mature Perspective

New Moon opened this week-end and my buddy and I decided we would brave the throngs of teenage girls and give it a go. Guess what? Looking around the theatre, we did not see a bunch of teenage girls, we saw a bunch of women who looked a lot like us.

Still, there were a couple of things that happened that gave away my age:

1. While at the snack bar, I felt compelled to discuss the recent NPR report on movie popcorn. I asked the 16 year old guy working the popcorn machine if he knew how much fat was in movie popcorn? No, shockingly, he did not. Was his popcorn, in fact, popped in coconut oil? Yes, in fact it was. Well, his popcorn was the equivalent of 7 Big Macs. What did he think of that? Yes, he thought he could eat 7 Big Macs, but not in one sitting.

2. While sitting through what seemed to be an hour of previews, I had to eat an energy bar to make it to the actual movie. The movie that looked the best in all the previews is an upcoming movie starring Meryl Streep about a woman whose husband divorces her and marries a much younger woman. He rues the day, and begins an affair with his original wife.

3. During the movie, I had to ask my buddy, several times, about key components of the plot, even though I read the book two months ago. All of it had left my mind, including the reason why Jacob has to continually run around with his shirt off in the movie. You see, werewolves burn much hotter than humans, so shirts are an encumbrance. I hope I'm not giving away anything by saying this is not a bad thing, in the movie.

4. Our medium sized diet cokes were comparable to the amount of water you would drink on a day hike in Yosemite. The cost of said diet cokes would also get you a camping site for the night.

5. After the movie, I felt unsettled so I googled a couple of feminist critiques of the Twilight series. They made a couple of great points about the author's relationship with religion leaking into the gender roles of her characters. Breaking Dawn, the final book in the series, takes a turn that is decidedly creepy and the images stay with you. Still, I enjoyed the movie and I enjoyed the books. Increasingly, I am aware that my well-worn labels, like feminist and liberal don't always fit anymore.
So, for me, the movie is not about a weak woman who gives up her identity for a love object. For me, the movie is about dangerous desire. Desire that triumphs humanity, family, and community. A passionate connection between equals seems like the way to go....I will look forward to seeing that depicted on screen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I wrote the word "Gratitude" on the board yesterday as a reminder to my students and to myself that if we hold that, and compassion, in our hearts, that is as good a place as any to start with managing all the rest of our tumultuous feelings.

This year has been a difficult one, in many ways. I heard the phrase "stroke survivor" applied to me for the first time and my neurologist enrolled me in a clinical trial for folks who had a stroke and recovered without long lasting effects. Last Friday she showed me the spot on my MRI that indicated the stroke. She pointed out that scar tissue had formed and so this event probably happened several years ago. As an athlete, this wasn't a label I thought I would be wearing at 45 but I am grateful. With the dx of stroke, the Mass General PFO closure committee, which meets every Wednesday, voted to approve the operation to close my PFO. This will decrease my chances of having another stroke in the future. I am grateful to have access to the best medical care in the world, and to have insurance that will (hopefully) cover this procedure.

As I have written about lately, I am grateful for my family and friends, all rock-solid at a time when I feel vulnerable and needy....two states with which I am neither familiar nor comfortable.

I am grateful for my church and my spiritual beliefs. The first noble truth in Buddhist belief is that life is suffering and the underlying given is that as unenlightened beings, we are out of balance. Most of us are unaware of this but at moments, you get to lean into the sharp points. These clarifying moments allow you to drop what is superficial and expand your soul, I think.

I am grateful for the role of creativity, poetry, and art in my life. I am just finishing a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, married to Charles Lindbergh and survivor of the kidnapping and murder of her first born son. She wrote this:

I keep realizing all the time that suffering isn't enough for true learning, for true understanding, for true vision...I used to think 'one learns by suffering'...One doesn't, though. One learns thorough suffering and beauty. One alone won't do it. You've got to have both..You must remain open--vulnerable."

Finally, I am so very grateful for the people who take the time and energy and read my blog. This online community has allowed me the space to write things I can't say, and therefore has allowed me to stay open. Love to you all!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There are moments

I am reading a great book entitled "3 Cups of Tea....." by Greg Mortenson. This is a story of a climber who stumbles upon a Pakistani village while stumbling off an unsuccessful K2 summit attempt. He decides to raise money to build schools and the tale is about how he goes about accomplishing that task.

Early in the book, one of the villagers greets him with the Balti saying "Chisele"...loosely translated, this means "what the hell." I find this to be such a sensible greeting.

Today, as I was rushing around school, trying to fit everything in, I went past the ISS (in school suspension) room. This is where kids are sent for the day when they have told a teacher to F-off, thrown something, or generally gone down the wrong path. There, sitting in ISS, were all the members of my anger management group. Quite a feat, really.

Chisele. Also a very sensible ending.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wow!.. put this up on their website this summer. Thanks a bunch! Worth looking at every so often!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notes from the Pew

Today's sermon was on kindness. How to be it, how to honor it, and to recognize how crucial it is for one's quote that Reverend Judith said (didn't catch the author): Kindness is treating people for who they are, not who you want them to be.

So, the seed was planted. What are my thoughts on kindness? Who do I treat the way I want them to be, rather than who they are? To my chagrin, quite a few folks. Here are just a couple:

1. My husband-I have made progress meeting him where he is and he certainly tries to do the same for me, perhaps the definition of a successful marriage, but I still wish he was more emotional. I have, to my credit, cut down on the times that I state he has the affect of a post. He has, to his credit, cut down on the times he attributes my mood swings to my monthly cycle or blood sugar fluctuations. All may be true, but not all that is true has to be said.

2. My children- when my son comes to me and says that he wants to learn to play the accordion or the bagpipes, I need to applaud his idiosyncratic taste in music, not envision him being beaten up by a cool saxophone player. He is who he is, not who I want to shape him to be to keep him safe. Blow on my you blow a bagpipe?

3. My friends-I sometimes think many of our friendships are based on mutual projections. The beauty of friends is that crisis, pain, and fear tend to trump any defenses we are wrapped up in. Lately, my friends have seen me in the hospital, in pain, scared to death, and ornery as hell. To my great joy, not a one of them has dropped off. I hope I have the opportunity to repay all their genuine kindness.

I will close with this poem, found in the order of service from The First Parish Church in Northboro Massachusetts on November 15th:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you know the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is you I have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend. Naomi Shihab Nye

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hospital on a Hill

I found this beautiful and haunting picture at this site I went looking for it because I remember touring the grounds of the old Northampton State Hospital, sometimes referred to as the Northampton Lunacy Hospital, when I was a graduate student studying on campus right next door. Dean Hartman (recently retired that year) had told many stories of how professors had taken first year students on tours through the "back wards" to give them a feel for the pain and suffering of the chronically mentally ill. With a bit of research, I realized that a variety of patients were hospitalized in the history of that storied institution: homosexuals, outspoken women, anyone who did not fit within the boundaries of their class, race, or gender. Of course, this also included folks who were struggling with mental illness.

The facility closed in 1993 and so had been vacant for two years when I took a tour. One could still feel the desperation and melancholy within the walls. To this day, I have these mental images of that day: the bucolic setting against the backdrop of the bars on the windows; rows and rows of gray doors; institutional sinks, the beautiful architectural style; and the energy that pounded throughout that place. Over a thousand graves are unmarked on that hill and thousands more stories untold.
I left school at the end of the summer to begin my first year internship in a big city hospital. I was assigned to the child/adolescent unit, a modern day psychiatric institution. I worked as a family therapist and my job was to guide parents through the bewildering terrain of having a child who was ill enough to be psychiatrically hospitalized. The average stay for a patient was under two weeks. So, some things have changed. Some have not. You can still see terror on a child's face when the door automatically shuts on a locked unit. At the time, you could still hear screams from restraints although I understand that is changing. I have recommended hospitalization many times during my career. It is absolutely necessary when one is spiralling out of control and can't stay safe. I'm not biased against a hospital stay, in fact I think it is often the ultimate act of courage and resilience.
Still, there is a price our most vulnerable and at times,most radical citizens have paid. I wanted to go back to Northampton and take a look around, take some pictures and mostly just honor the people who lived and died there. Sadly, I found out today, that the Northampton State Hospital was demolished several years ago, ostensibly to make room for a multi-use housing complex.
Today, the land stands vacant. I don't know if the souls that roamed there the day I visited have found peace.
Our prayers tonight should be for them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pick a Place

I have been thinking about the ideas of wilderness, solitude, and finding beauty in an urban environment. I am sure it is completely coincidental that I am thinking about these things having just spent the day with my two kids who are on holiday from school. The highlight of the day was scones with a buddy and going with friends to a nature trail close to the house. I have decided that this trail is my Walden Pond.

Now, my understanding of Thoreau is that he was a bit of an odd duck. Louisa May Alcott had a crush on him..they ran in the same Transcendentalist crowd...but he would have none of it. He was a lover of nature and getting back to the simple things in life. Still, all the time he was living at his rustic cabin on Walden Pond, he headed over to his mother's house for lunch. She lived within walking distance. This is a plan I can now get behind.

Back in the day, my husband and I left each Friday and headed up for the mountains. We would camp out and then spend the week-end climbing. I didn't actively think about the wilderness, I was in it all the time. In the winter, I did as much back-country skiing as possible. If you haven't skied along the Kancamagus River in New Hampshire, put it on your bucket list.

Then came Luke and Emma. Suddenly, the comfort of home and diapers eclipsed the rough terrain of New Hampshire and Maine. We still climbed, but in an indoor climbing gym. As the kids got older, I took them on short hikes and skiing but at our local downhill spot.

I missed the solitude of the wilderness and the joy of being back country. So, today I had an epiphany. Pick a place and explore the wilderness that is in it. Look at it mindfully throughout the seasons. Explore it with friends. You can experience the emotion of climbing an exposed arete by putting four children on bikes and scooters, and releasing them downhill, all weaving wildly into one other but miraculously not hitting each other. You can view wildlife as you glimpse at what surely is an arctic fox. Hey, this isn't the Arctic and that fox is meowing.

Pick a place. Pick the people you share it with. Write about it. Ponder it. And if you smell lunch wafting over a birch tree, consider yourself blessed.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Notes from the Pew

I'm a Buddhist, my husband is an atheist (even though I have tried to talk him for years into being an agnostic) and we are raising our children as Unitarian Universalists. My mom is pagan, my dad southern Baptist and my granddaddy was a preacher. My story is not unique, we all come from a patchwork of religious belief systems. The woman who had the most impact on my spiritual beliefs is my grandmother who attended the Church of Christ, a fundamentalist Protestant religion. The Church of Christ believed that you couldn't have music in church, women could not hold leadership positions, and that you had to declare that Jesus Christ was your personal savior to get to heaven. My dad told this joke to me several years ago: Saint Peter was bringing a group of newly dead folks on a tour of heaven. As they passed one room, he started whispering. One lady asked why? He responded, "Oh, we are passing the Church of Christ people..they think they are the only ones up here."

A couple of years before my grandmother died, I brought her and my mother to church with me. It was the annual UU animal blessing service and the parisoners did not disappoint. They brought their dogs, rabbits, and even a goat to receive words of compassion from Margaret, the director of Religious Education who also raises Llamas. My grandmother sat with her purse clutched in her lap, looking like she was going to be mugged. Later, she couldn't get over the fact that the minister was a "lady preacher." My mother still talks about that sermon being one of the most wonderful she has seen. Although my grandmother gave me the discipline and the longing for church, my mother gave me her open heart so I could find the right one.

Take the best your parents and grandparents gave you and find a spiritual home. It may not be church, for my husband it is the local climbing gym, but the gift of exploring something that is outside yourself and doing it mindfully within is a noble use of time.

I wish UU's were more evangelical, because our blessed community kicks ass....there is singing, laughing, crying, fellowship in the sense of being there for each other when things go awry, and much, much love. I wish the same for each and every one of you.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Sister, Sister

Time to brag a little bit on my sister.........and give you some idea of what it is like when your baby sister is a 5'10'' easy going redhead:) I will say for the record, though, that she is the short one.

The pictures (thanks Colleen) denote her latest work of art. She is a cowgirl artist. Note the boots. This little number was submitted to a contest that was held at the school where she teaches....a contest for the best scarecrow. Kat took the contest to the next level and created (with the help of her artist friends) this sculpture made out of wire and words. Now is the time to mention that my sister likes to win...and win she did, a new laptop.

You don't get to pick your sisters but I hit the lottery. She is beautiful, talented, an amazing mom, and someday we are going to learn to harmonize and form a sister band. We will wear red cowgirl boots and all of our lyrics will celebrate folly, which leads to wisdom. We will tour across the Southwest in a vintage trailer, nicknamed "The Scamp."
Love you sister, sister.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bidden or Unbidden

I am a clinical supervisor for (usually) young social work interns who are just entering the field. They are so earnest, it is heartbreaking but hopeful. They come armed with the latest theories, an insistence that we all look at issues of class, race, and other "isms", and generally force me to articulate why I practice the way I practice. Although all those things are time consuming, my students keep me from becoming ossified and in the end, I am usually grateful. I try to teach them a couple of things, as well.

Halloween is a great example. Over the years, I have incorporated this holiday into my clinical groups. Groups are an interesting entity and one that I feel every intern should start trying to master. It ain't easy. This is the age, in both schools and clinical practice, where everything needs to be "solution-based" and every minute should be used in teaching the students strategies for managing affect or increasing their ability to handle stress. I don't disagree with that mandate but how we get there......that is the art of teaching and the art of therapy. One of the questions that I ask all my group members is this: What do you believe in that is bigger than you? My clients are hungry for a spiritual component to their lives...not religious but spiritual. Carl Jung is my guy for this part of the work. He talked about our "shadow selves", the pieces of our personalities that we discard early on and tap down into our unconscious. Part of our clinical work is to integrate our shadow parts with our dominant selves. Halloween is a Shadow holiday....who and why do we dress up the way we do? For my clients, it is also intimately connected with the devil and it brings up meaningful conversation about the spirit world...and how that world intersects with the world of the living. So, as I am explaining all of this to my interns, I note the puzzled look on their faces. Haven't we gone off track from our set curriculum? Yes, we have....and in doing so we are meeting the clients where they are and we are allowing them, in an age of mandates and cognitive behavioral strategies to look at something deeper and older. Give yourself permission to go off track and embrace art, play, and even dance a little with the collective makes for a group that is real.

My favorite quote is from Jung: Bidden or Unbidden, God is present. I would add (with the utmost of hubris and humility) that I think our Gods are all walking hand in hand. We are all of one piece. I hope we figure that part out soon. That is really what I am trying to teach my interns:)