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Keep Our Hearts Open… and our Wills Strong as Steel

Signing off from an email this week, a very wise friend wrote: “Let’s make sure we keep our hearts soft but our wills strong as steel.”

This is going to be my new mantra. My rally cry. My mission.

With one edit: “and” instead of “but” – Keep our hearts soft and our wills strong as steel

They are not mutually exclusive. One feeds the other.

Since the election, I’ve been focused on love. Choosing love over fear. Choosing to open my heart instead of allowing myself to get constricted. (I wrote about that in What Do We Tell Our Kids… and Ourselves?) Since I had written that little essay for myself – letting the words and feelings flow out of me simply as a way to process the helplessness and chaos – I shared it very selectively at first. Based on feedback from friends and their interest in sharing with others, I decided to share it here so that others who may benefit from it could seek it out.

The discussions that the essay opened up have been a gift – I so value those conversations and appreciate the healing that follows. Like this: one friend replied that she loved it; and that she had come to a somewhat different path – that she wants to show her daughter that “when you care deeply about something you speak up and you fight injustice.” And “…that she can’t take this sitting down.”

What an important perspective that was for me to hear. Were openness and love at odds with fighting injustice? Are they different paths?

No. They are not mutually exclusive. Choosing love and choosing to stand up for what we believe in are close companions.

I believe that in order to make change, I need to first have a foundation of compassion. Of love. Of softness. I need to be loving and caring towards myself. Then and only then can I stand up – on feet that are grounded, with a spine that is strong, a mind that is clear, and a heart that is open – to fight for what I believe in.

As Ram Dass writes in Polishing the Mirror:

“If you feel a sense of social responsibility, first of all keep working on yourself. Being peaceful yourself is the first step if you want to live in a peaceful universe.”

Whatever we cultivate within will radiate outwards exponentially. In the same way that by taking care of yourself, you create a stronger you in order to better support and serve others, when you nurture love and peace within yourself, you will be better prepared to release the same to your family, your community, the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m craving nurturing content right now – simultaneously devouring and trying to savor writing and thinking that inspire and guide. Much of that I’m finding within podcasts: Jonathan Fields, Tara Brach and Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert to name a few.

In one of her “Magic Lessons” episodes on how to harness creativity, Liz was talking with an aspiring artist about how compassion can be “soft and velvety;” but that compassion can “lack traction.” She told the guest that in order to produce the art she wanted and make an impact, she needed to add another essential ingredient: ferocious, bracing courage

Yes. Right now we need love. And we need ferocious, bracing courage. Boy did that speak to me. That’s the recipe: Love + ferocious, bracing courage = action that will have an impact.

Post-election, I first chose soft and velvety: love, openness and compassion. (I needed to offer myself that love and security because the world certainly wasn’t providing that. Nor will it ever, right? Love and security are not things we can attain from external sources. They come from within.) And now I’m prepared to build on that, adding the “bracing jolt of electricity” (Liz’s words) and spinal fortitude in order to stand strong.

Stand strong.

Stand up.

Look up.

An open heart creates space – space that prepares us to act from a place of both peace and strength. In order to be the peaceful warriors we need to be right now, let’s keep our hearts soft and our wills strong as steel.

Every sentence that Tara Brach utters reaches inside my soul and fuels me with the certainty that this is the path for me right now. So I will leave you with an excerpt from her recent teachings:

“If we… courageously open to what’s inside of us, we will get to the caring that makes acting the most natural thing in the world. Our actions will be planting seeds for true transformation versus the seeds that continue the old patterning. Because we have to change consciousness.”

 

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What Do We Tell Our Kids… and Ourselves?

I first lost it when I was lying down with my daughter at bedtime. The end of an era. The end of innocence. When she wakes up Trump is going to be president elect. She had fallen asleep and I lay next her, my body wracked with sobs.

Then I kept losing it. There wasn’t going to be that moment in the middle of the night when I could go down to her room, wake her up and whisper giddily: “Hillary Clinton is our President!” Any time I thought of my daughter, and how I would tell her, and what it meant for her… for the future, I lost it.

And I lost it most uncontrollably at the end of the night. As I was going down to bed I saw one of her stray signs cast aside on the dining room table – ‘go HILLARY’ written on a piece of paper and attached to a popsicle stick. She had so much enthusiasm and so much unbridled hope in that little six year old body and that massive six year old heart.

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What are we going to tell her?

I am going to tell her that Trump won and Hillary lost. And that means three things:

  • that Trump will be President;
  • that Hillary will still be working for everything  she stood for during the campaign; and that we must sill be WITH HER – because everything that Hillary stood for and all that she believes in and all those values of being kind and good and welcoming everyone are not lost; she will still be fighting for those and we must do the same; and
  • that we need to turn to ourselves for the answer: that even though love didn’t win on the national stage, it needs to – it needs to so, so desperately – win out in our own hearts.

What we tell her, however, is secondary to how we act.

How are we going to model for her in her most intimate environment the values that she needs more than ever? How are we going to walk this path with some modicum of grace and compassion and integrity? What legacy do we want to leave her with, in the small orbit of our family – the only environment we have any control over right now?

How will we hold onto our values when we feel the floor has dropped out from under us? Because that’s the thing: it wasn’t just a glass ceiling that wasn’t shattered; it was our foundation doing a free fall. A free fall into negativity, hate and constriction.

In the face of this, we need to soften, to keep our hearts open. As I read before bed on election night, Pema Chodren writes in “Practicing Peace in Times of War”:

“…to the degree that each of us is dedicated to wanting there to be peace in the world, then we have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s true spiritual warriorship. That’s the true practice of peace.”

When we feel anxiety and fear and constriction, we need to soften our hearts. We need to allow love to have a seat at the table so that we don’t fall into the traps of anger and fear. It’s a moment to moment to moment journey. Choose love. Choose love. Choose love over fear.

I also know that we pass on feelings – our own hurts and fears – to our children on the deepest cellular level. They take them on. Like they instinctively absorb our love and affection and nurturing, the flip side of our human emotions are also imprinted. That’s not to say that we should pretend to be happy. On the contrary, we need to be more authentic. We need to allow ourselves to be sad – to name the feeling, live the feeling, then let the feeling go when we have walked through it sufficiently.

We all need to take time to mourn. It is OK to be sad. It is OK to feel. What is not OK is to let that sadness rot into destructive fear or anger.

In this time of lacking control on the outside, we need to go inside, to our inner selves, to our inner bodies, to our inner hearts. It is through self-care that we will heal. Every choice we make, every step we take becomes infinitely more important – if we can heal ourselves, we can heal our families, we can heal our communities, we can heal our country and our world and the universe. I believe that with all of my being. I get chills writing it and chills thinking about it.

When I told my daughter the news at breakfast, she rested her cheek on the cold counter. “I’m tired,” she said. Yes, her little body was surely tired. But those words also conveyed to me that her soul was tired.

She is exhausted. The world is exhausted. We feel like we fought so hard. We hoped so mightily. And we were squashed. But we have to remind ourselves that we were defeated only in the election – we can’t mistake the election as a direct representation for humanity.

This is a time for love. For telling the people you care for how you feel. For reaching out with a phone call or a hand or a hug. For really seeing people and really hearing them. It’s time to nurture our ability to embrace others and acknowledge differences and one action at a time, create connection. Show love. Speak love. Give and receive love.

When we feel down – and put down – we can’t give in or give up. And we can’t fuel what attacks us with more anger. Fighting back with anger is fighting back against love

What’s become obvious to me is that this pervasive question of “What do we tell our kids?” is really a more reflective question: “What do we tell ourselves?”

Only by first figuring out how we want to respond to the situation can we then adequately respond to others. Now is a time to love ourselves and love others even more fiercely, to allow those most vulnerable and most authentic depths of our being remain open, remain soft.

Be love. Choose love. That’s what I’m going to keep telling my daughter. And that’s what I’m going to keep reinforcing to myself.

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Sign we made for a local peace rally last weekend — her words, her concept and ideas.

Namaste

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Snow Returns to Sochi

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Over the last few days, the combo of rain and fog has made for more tough conditions for the athletes. These moody photos aren’t the typical shots you see from a Winter Paralympic Games! (Another big thanks to Joe Kusumoto for sharing the images.)

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But today, Sochi finally got some snow.

According to alpine skier Stephanie Jallen, the course was shaping up: “We suddenly went from spring back to winter. It made it tough that we couldn’t warm up in those conditions, but luckily the race track was pretty good. Especially the second run, the track was amazing.”

Laurie Stephens took bronze in the slalom today, adding to her bronze medals in downhill and super-G earlier in the week. This makes her a 7-time medalist, though it’s her first in slalom.

Fierce and focused on the course, her intensity transforms into a zen-like calm post-race: “Every day is different and all of the conditions are different, you never know what’s going to happen.”

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Laurie Stephens extends medal streak with slalom bronze

 

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Stephanie Jallen gets a fist bump from USA coach Ray Watkins

 

In overall medal count, Russia is dominating, with 47 total (16 gold!) Ukraine follows with 14 medals (3 gold.) The U.S. and Canada rank next with 8 medals each. While Canada has already won 2 gold, Team USA is still in search of its first gold medal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Barriers in Sochi

140307jk-openingceremony-001At the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony today, “breaking the ice” was an apt theme for breaking down barriers and breaking down stereotypes — not only for athletes competing in the Paralympics, but for people around the world.

I don’t want to cloud the competition and the focus on the athletes with political posturing, but I’d be remiss not to say that I  hope this “breaking the ice” metaphor can also extend to the situation with Ukraine. According to my husband, who was at the Ceremony, one of the most moving moments was “hearing the place go nuts for the solo Ukrainian athlete.” Even for those of us who were watching on TV, we felt that energy too.

And as my friend — and unofficial, Facebook-fan-favorite, Olympic & Paralympic commentator — John Carideo posted yesterday, “I think [the Ukrainian athletes] coming into the stadium, under their own flag would be the most powerful unifying message that could be sent.” Agreed. Let’s hope that’s a small step towards peace.

Following are some images from Joe Kusumoto that capture the power and grace of the Opening Ceremony — just a teaser for the power and grace that will follow from the 587 athletes competing on the snow and ice over the next nine days.140307jk-openingceremony-002

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I’ll leave you today with an excerpt from IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s Opening Ceremony speech:

Thirty-four years ago when the old Soviet Union declined the opportunity to stage the 1980 Paralympic Games in Moscow, the prospect of Russia staging its first Paralympic Games was nothing but a dream. But dreams do come true, and since winning the Games seven years ago, this part of Russia has undergone a monumental transformation. However, the biggest transformation for this country is still yet to come. In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier free environment for athletes and officials to enjoy, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier free minds, too.

And to the athletes, he said:

You have here superb sporting venues to express your amazing talents and live up to the Paralympic values of determination and courage, inspiration and equality. Together you are the catalysts for change. United as one, you have the ability to change perceptions and alter attitudes like no other. You arrive here as the best prepared athletes ever to attend a Paralympic Winter Games. You will leave as role models, heroes, pioneers and most of all, Proud Paralympians.

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2013 Favorite Kids Books

In honor of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day — Saturday, December 7 — let’s talk kids books! These days, with a 3 1/2 year old who loves reading as much as I do, I’m enamored by children’s books as much as I am my own fictional escapes.

I’d typically work up to my favorite, but in case you don’t read this whole blog, I want to make sure you do not miss this spectacular wordless picture book by Aaron Becker — Journey. If you buy one children’s book this holiday season, make it this one!

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This illustration recently graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The author sells signed giclee prints from his web site, which are worth checking out!

What first hooked me on this book was the book trailer (watch it here.) Named one of the Notable Children’s Books for 2013 by The New York Times, and recently dubbed “a wordless masterpiece” that is “both timely and timeless” (The Huffington Post) Journey is the story of a lonely girl who uses her red marker to outline a magical door opening to adventure. She draws a boat, a hot air balloon and a magic carpet as she navigates this other world. When she visits a steam punk-esque castle, she narrowly escapes the bad guys and frees a purple caged bird who later helps her out of captivity by returning her lost marker. (Spoiler alert: the purple bird is drawn by a boy with his own marker, who she befriends both in their pretend, drawing world, as well as in “real” life.)

It’s Harold & The Purple Crayon meets Imagine a Night. It’s “The Imagination Book” (as my daughter calls it.) It’s “story breathing” (the name of the author’s website and Twitter handle) at its finest. While probably most appropriate for the 2-6 year old set, this would be a joy at any age; I was even thinking it would make a unique gift for a graduate (think Oh The Places You’ll Go) … or even a wedding gift for a couple, as the boy and girl find, save and enjoy each other through a shared world  they’ve created.

Clearly I’m obsessed with Journey, but yes, there are other books in the sea, and several other picks worth sharing:

When it Snows, Richard Collingridge — reminiscent of The Polar Express, the classic illustrations are like an “ethereal Norman Rockwell” (as my husband said) that match a moody, cozy story perfect for snowy winter days. After wondrous adventures with bigger-than-life snowmen and rides on polar bears, the story finishes with:24732-img4

“I see thousands of elves…and other magical creatures…and I can go there every day…because my favorite book takes me there.”

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown — I love the book description: “Are you bored with being so proper? Do you want to have more fun? Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.”

Me… Jane, Patrick McDonnell — a story of the young Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee. (I bought this a few months ago and wrapped it up for Christmas. Not sure who will be more excited to open it – me or the little nugget!)

From "Me... Jane"

From “Me… Jane”

The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers — a box of crayons goes on strike. This fun book teaches us that crayons have feelings too — perfect for toddlers who are learning their own emotions and how to express feelings.

This Moose Belongs to Me, Oliver Jeffers — OK, this was from 2012, but I love how quirky it is, so I couldn’t resist including it here. That moose you think is your pet…? That you call Marcel…? Well, that lady over there who feeds it apples (don’t do this at home, kids!) calls him Rodrigo… and she thinks he’s her pet ( : Great illustrations, funny, and it teaches us to respect what is wild.

If You Want to See a Whale, Julie Fogliano – I’m ending with a book that is equally beautiful and timeless as Journey. Fogliano (author of And Then It’s Spring — another favorite!) has done it again with poetic words that match simple yet inspiring illustrations. We bought this one at an indie bookstore in Gloucester, Mass. after whale watching this summer (where yes, we actually saw whales!) We’d read this almost every night before bed, then after turning the lights, we’d take turns coming up with our own endings to the ‘If you want to watch a whale…’ sentence. This is one of those books that is a supreme catalyst for imagination, and one I’d highly recommend, especially for all you east coasters.

From "If You Want to See a Whale"

From “If You Want to See a Whale”

Stay tuned later this month for my must-have reccomendations when building a library for your kiddo.

And, if you’ve made it this far, then you’re definitely a book lover — for yourself and your kids — so please excuse a brief public service announcement: as you consider your purchasing options, please think about supporting your local independent bookstores (and toy stores…and libraries… ) While you may be able to get it cheaper online, those extra few dollars can go a long way in preserving the cozy, inspiring, community hubs that our indie shops offer. I simply cannot imagine a world without indie bookstores… can you?

A big thanks to the below stores for nurturing my daughter’s love of reading!

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2013 Favorite Reads

It’s been a couple of years since I posted an end of year book list. But lately, I’ve found so much contentment in good reads, it’s time to share a few recommendations again.

This list isn’t in any particular order, nor are the books necessarily published in ’13. With more limited time these days, it’s harder to stay on top of all the new ones; I’m constantly catching up! I also realize in writing this that I’ve read so little nonfiction this year… so all my picks are fiction. Here are my favorites:9780770437855_custom-0fec8d6bec6f0261063ff3be14ce66895270b9a5-s6-c30

The Dinner, Herman Koch — edgy, sharp, often disturbing… this is a unique novel that I didn’t really appreciate until after I was finished. Publishers dubbed it as a European Gone Girl, but I actually think it’s more appropriate to liken it to Defending Jacob, as one Goodreads reviewer (“Noeleen”) pointed out. (Just saw that this is being made into a movie to be directed by Cate Blanchett.)

Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian — I rarely disagree with recommendations from RJ Julia owner Roxanne and once again, she doesn’t disappoint. In her review, she points to a comment on the back of the book: “many love stories end in marriage, rare is the story that begins with one.” I picked this up3StagesPBCover a few years back and finally got around to reading it this year — it’s modern, relevant and feels so real. I loved everything about it, including this quote: “To a man, talk is work; to a woman, it’s reward.” (If you like this, also try Let the Great World Spin and Rules of Civility… two of my other all-time favorites..)

Wool, Hugh Howey — dystopic fiction doesn’t usually make my list, but I’ll make an exception here because Hugh’s back story is equally intriguing as the book. In March, he explained his path to a huge publishing deal in an article for IndieReader, which endeared me to him as an author. While I won’t necessarily read everything he writes, I’m a huge fan of his humility and authenticity as an author.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman — once again, not my usual fare, but after a few recommendati9780062255655_custom-edf574a766e8d0912ecde8211555ca96c266ae1d-s6-c30ons from simpatico readers, I had to give it a shot. I went into this with only a minimal impression of Gaiman (author of Coraline) but now I want more. He’s a creative genius who tests the boundaries of imagination, and I want to explore his other books, both those for adults and kids.

The Light between Oceans, M. L. Stedman — for me, “light” reading doesn’t mean mindless, light subject matter; it means unobtrusive, decent writing that pushes along a compelling story. The Light between Oceans falls into that category: the writing didn’t blow me away, but the story kept my attention and I enjoyed reading it.

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple — smart, sassy and whacky… this book was a winner. I think it was over-hyped for a lot of people, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air to find a book that was both well written and funny.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, Anthony Marra — I wish I had jotted down the character names from the start, 9780770436407_custom-77ecfa8847f465932cc1ea4b3ea0f626c0c7a23d-s6-c30because I’d occasionally lose track of who was who ( I blame myself and late night reading…  not the author.) This was a dense read (Chechnya mid-90s to 2004) but it was really well done and the writing was sharp. With all the layers to the plot, I think this would make a good book club read… the kind of story you need to talk about afterwards.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green — when recently asked by a friend what I thought about The Fault in Our Stars, I said I “appreciated” it (vs. “loved” it, the reaction of so many other readers.) Maybe it was the topic (teenagers with cancer) that was just too hard for me… but I do love the author (his wit and humanity shine through his writing) so I would recommend the book with unwavering enthusiasm.

As always, would love to hear what you’re reading and loving! And… stay tuned for my favorite children’s books, which I’ll post next week — after I present at The Next Page’s ‘Best of the Best 2013

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Q&A on Skedaddle

I’ve been so pleased with the response to my “No Pink” blog post that ran on the Women’s Adventure Magazine site.  Many women really seemed to respond to this paragraph:

“Mirroring my former life is not a realistic expectation. Nor, quite frankly, is it something that’s even a priority anymore. It’s not about not being able to. I simply don’t want to. There are other things I’d rather do, most of which involve my daughter.”

Lia Keller was one of those women who wrote me after my article appeared. She runs the Skedaddle blog (Activities, Giveaways and Reviews To Help Your Child Get Outside Rain, Sun or Snow) out of Alaska, and asked me to answer a few questions about getting outside with a kiddo.  Below’s a link to the Q&A she posted on the site:

Wild Child Tara Kusumoto

What fun to connect with all the other moms out there, trying to figure out how to navigate this mommyhood adventure!

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