Category Archives: Photography

Grounding Roots While Reaching For the Light

photo-105

Reaching for the Light by Laura Roe Stevens

Today I received two messages that I clearly needed—completely and utterly  perfect for me at this moment. The first came from a friend in Italy, another single mom who painstakingly takes care of her seriously ill young daughter’s every need. The quote from Khalil Gibran: ‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.’

Then, for some reason, I received a free copy of Deepak Chopra’s 21 Days of Inspiration—part of his bestseller The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

Today’s ‘inspiration’ about transformation is based around the metaphor of the beloved Sequoia tree. Again, how perfect for me, as I have been intrigued and mesmerized by these ancient trees and took a trip to see and hike among them. I even bought sequoia puzzles and blocks from my sons, as I am fascinated by the fact that these 3,000-year-old trees, older than Buddha, can only exist with the presence of fire. The heat of the forest fires release their seeds and clear away smaller trees that might block sun light from their roots.

My book, that I’m having difficulty focussing on at the moment, is quite literally centered around the mysticism from ancient trees. Not entirely, but it starts in this manner. I wish I could share a sneak peak within this blog, but a literary agent told me not to, so I’ll listen to her advice.

While the book is not based at all on my life or my childhood, I have always been affected by trees. As a child, I would escape the madness or chaos or fighting that might be occurring within my large household and run away to lay beneath 200-year-old pine trees. Our house bordered an old horse and tobacco farm and I would quite literally run past abandoned slave quarters and a tobacco-curing barn and then walk for ages on the then-empty horse trails, lined with soft pine needles. When I was finally exhausted, I would lay underneath a tree, my head resting on the moss that blanketed its knotted roots, and look up into the sky. The fingers of the trees would touch and move softly, letting in rays of sunlight, bits of blue sky. The shade helped me escape the usual oppressive heat of the South and if I laid still long enough, sometimes a deer would gently wander past. It was my heaven. Laying against the roots of trees that had witnessed likely atrocities from slavery, and perhaps moments of joyous horse-back riding, I wondered just what else had occurred or who else had shared this spot with me in the past. I didn’t know that I was meditating, but my eyes would close half-way, as I’d sleepily watch the limbs sway far above me. There were no other sounds except that of water trickling in the near by stream, leaves or pine needles rustling from deer, rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks. But most certainly, and steadily, like an ocean tide, I’d hear the soft, whispering wind from above. Although I was only a young girl, I think on some level, I recognized the metaphor in the moment that I sought over and over again when I needed to escape. And that is:

– Beauty Exists.

– Distance yourself from chaos, addiction, toxic relationships.

– Find stillness.

– Listen.

– Strengthen your core, your roots.

– Although rooted in who you are and what you want, strive to stay aware, mindful, accepting and grateful—especially for those lessons taught by those who have hurt you the most.

– And, most importantly: bravely, tentatively, reach for the sky, the light, and toward baby steps to manifest your dreams.

Happy New Year all ~

Laura xo

Living Yoga: Tuning In

livingyogabell

The Living Yoga Retreat in Santa Ynez, Calif. this past week, was a soulful, simple, beautiful journey. I say simple, because it brought me back to the beauty of the basics. We all know the simple truths that ring true if we stop to acknowledge them. These truths, if followed, allow us to live by what tunes us into the beauty around and within us.  For me, this retreat, led by the beautiful and talented yogis Linda Baffa and Chelsea Welch, allowed me to embrace my inner rhythms. Waking at 6 a.m. every morning, doing a netti pot, going to 6:30 yoga and meditation classes, assisting with cook and cleanup, required dedication, effort and focus. The salt water cleanse and whole, fresh, organic vegan diet—cleansed my body and mind. I felt buoyant, yet grounded with focus.  This coffee-drinking, chocolate-loving gal, felt free and pure and happy. I found myself walking through pomegranate fields and just smiling. And like good witches of the West, we all meditated and flowed—focussing on our intentions and manifesting our dreams. Dream boards were made. A day of silence required inner reflection, painting, giggling, hiking. For me, I was able to determine what voice to start the sixth chapter of my book with. I had vivid, inspiring dreams. And, just as important, I connected with soulful, kind, fun, inspiring women.

Now that I’m back, what I have taken from this trip, (which I also felt when in Tuscany) can be boiled down in simple thoughts and pictures. Enjoy:

Slow Down. The Journey May Inspire You as Much as the Destination.

livingyogafrom road

Be Grateful for whats around the corner. Even bumps in the road provide valuable lessons for growth.

livingyogafrom road3

Pay Attention. Hidden Gems Can Be Found In Your World.

livingyogaolives

livingyogapomagranates

Embrace What Inspires You.

livingyogahills

You Can Make a Difference: Small Efforts Blossom.

livingyogakumquats

Pay Attention to the Signs:

livingyogacowhead

Your Legacy Matters. Pass Down Traditions.

livingyogaCAsign

Listen To the Wind, Breathe Deeply and Tune into Your Truth.

livingyogaranch

Sailing Into the Light of Compassion

photo-40

I took this photo on Monday evening, after an emotional weekend. My nearly 5-year-old son was sitting on our deck singing his favorite new song: “I Have Peace Like a River, I Have Love Like an Ocean” (so cute!). I looked up and saw this sailboat sailing into a tiny spotlight of light, breaking through rain clouds over the Pacific Ocean. I knew instantly that it was the perfect metaphor for me as of late.

Perhaps it’s all the long hours of yoga teacher training? Or, maybe it’s all the hip opening we’ve been doing lately? But something is breaking down walls. I find that in this past month of intensive training, I’m opening up my heart more than ever and releasing a roller coaster of emotions and long-lost memories. During a particularly long hip opening called frog pose (not advisable for newbies!), a memory of my ex-husband popped into my head. It was in the middle of the night four and a half years ago. He had gone to the nursery, changed our infant baby’s diaper and was humming as he walked back into our room. He handed the little burrito to me in bed so I could nurse him back to sleep. He kissed the baby’s head and mine, before turning back in. It was such a sweet memory.

After our six hour training session this Saturday, I thought about what other memories had been popping up lately. Some have been hard, from my childhood that was an ever-shifting alcohol-fueled tide. But some sweet too. One was of my dad, laughing and teasing me and one of my best friends he liked to call Beastie. I had forgotten how he would tease my girl and boy-friends in such silly ways.

What I’m realizing, as I mellow, is that it’s just as critical to recall the good along with the bad memories from those who have let me down. We are all such multi-faceted beings. Even those who have hurt me tremendously, have also been kind, silly and tender at times. This can be confusing, but for me, it helps as I piece together my past that for the longest time felt like shifting sands. It’s hard to leap forward with confidence, when the past resembles a shaking, evolving platform.

I think the hard part of recovering from a divorce, or any betrayal or lies,  is the internal confusion that grows. As I discovered the truth about events in my marriage, and even in my childhood, I started to question my ability to discern just what is real, or what was felt, or what can be trusted by others.

That’s why light bulbs flashed for me while reading an article by psychiatrist Anna Fels on Sunday. Apparently, many other people felt the same way, as her New York Times editorial Great Betrayals was the fifth most viral news article on the Internet that day.

I haven’t written about divorce or betrayal in a long, long time. There’s a reason for that. I’m focussing on my kids and my writing and moving on in positive ways. But Dr. Fels’ compassionate explanation of the psychological effects of  lies has resonated deeply with me. I don’t think I’ve read a more thorough article on the topic ever—and trust me, I’ve read plenty. Here’s why:

Dr. Fels explains eloquently why it’s so hard for those of us who have had been lied to, to move on successfully. We no longer have trust in our memories—in the narrative of our life. This erodes into a patchy, mental foundation, as we begin to mistrust what we see or hear or even experience in the present. In order to move forward, we have to put together the narrative of our past. And this takes courage and time to put the whole story line back together. It takes courage to own the good and bad times—regardless of what else might have been happening. And perhaps that part can only come after forgiveness truly settles in. At least, that’s how I see it.

Dr. Fels simply explains that the person who does the lying or betrayal can recover more easily as they have an intact past. This person knows exactly what she or he did and felt. And if remorseful, can recover faster and step forward refreshed and determined to begin a new. Typically, they garner more support, too, as everyone loves a come-back story. The psychiatrist gave many examples of betrayal, including a client who hid a massive debt from his partner for years.

The part of betrayal that hurts the most are always the lies. They eat away at the fabric of your past reality and the ability to trust what you sew in the future. For instance, a friend who has been divorced several years is still discovering more lies and betrayals from her ex. The continual drip of new information from friends and family keeps her on edge. Just what was real from their marriage? When they were on vacation did he mean what he said? They had a lot of fun times, did he not share them? Were they not real? When he wanted to venture into another business abroad, was another woman in the picture then, too? And what about their many friends who knew? Should she trust them now?

Dr. Fels explains:

“Insidiously, the new information disrupts their sense of their own past, undermining the veracity of their personal history. Like a computer file corrupted by a virus, their life narrative has been invaded. Memories are now suspect: what was really going on that day? Why did the spouse suddenly buy a second phone “for work” several years ago? Did a friend know the truth even as they vacationed together? Compulsively going over past events in light of their recently acquired (and unwelcome) knowledge, such patients struggle to integrate the new version of reality. For many people, this discrediting of their experience is hard to accept. It’s as if they are constantly reviewing their past lives on a dual screen: the life they experienced on one side and the new “true” version on the other. But putting a story together about this kind of disjunctive past can be arduous.”

As I read this article, I felt a wave of compassion roll over me like a mother rocking her child and saying “there, there.” Piecing together the past is arduous.

I loved that Dr. Fels reminds readers that the people who are lied to are NOT naive for trusting their partners and they were not” in denial and knew on some level”—both sentiments that misguided friends and family often say to the person in pain. The psychiatrist explains that friends become queasy about the lack of control victims of betrayal have—often making them to be less supportive or critical.

“But the betrayed are usually as savvy as the rest of us. When one woman I know asked her husband, a closet alcoholic who drank secretly late at night, how he could have hidden his addiction for so long, he replied, “It took a lot of work.””

Dr. Fels’ article, (without specifically stating it) reminds ALL of us to seek compassion. Life is messy. We are all multi-faceted and none of us are perfect. The person who is struggling to piece together their own narrative, especially, needs to find compassion for themselves. It’s okay if you don’t move on immediately or always behave with grace and forgiveness. This is hard work.

I feel blessed to finally be on the other side. And as waves of good memories start flooding in, I’m starting to own them. At first it confused me into thinking I wanted to return to my old life. There were many good times, after all. But now I know it’s just a way for me to be grateful for what I had and how I’m growing in my awareness and in my capacity for forgiveness and compassion. (And this includes for myself.) There were plenty of times when I might have been overly critical and less grateful than I am now. I’m owning them too—and moving on. But most importantly, when I recall a memory where I felt love and security, when in light of discovered events, it likely wasn’t reciprocated, I now allow it to be ok. I felt it. I lived it. And that memory can be owned, too. One person’s actions doesn’t necessarily negate your own feelings or hopes. And they shouldn’t be an excuse to shut down, and not trust or dare to love again. But it just takes time—and more importantly, it takes compassion.

I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite Buddhist authors:

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”
― Pema Chödrön

Is Success a Destination?

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

My apologies for being gone so long. To say life has been nutty lately would be an understatement. As a recap: the last two weeks of August my boys were with their father and I had delicious, rare alone time at home working feverishly on my new book. It’s southern, semi-historical fiction and a lot of fun. I was really in the groove. It was amazing to have the freedom to write, work out, take walks, etc. I was SO excited when the boys returned, however. For two days beforehand, I organized the house, their toys, books, etc. I prepared meals like veggie lasagne, freezing half. I was determined to start the new school year on the right foot. School would start, I would focus 3 to 4 hours a day on my book with the goal of getting through half of it by October.

Little did I realize that I was entering a crazed period. The first week with my boys should have been an indicator of what was to come! School hadn’t yet started, my nanny was away that week, and to add insult to injury, my freezer broke. Repairman couldn’t come for two days. I lost just about everything.

Second week, school still had not completely started for my oldest (we had one day off and one half day for some reason with two intensive back to school nights!) and the preschool for my youngest wouldn’t start until Sept 9th—and only half days till Oct. 1! I also had five articles to write for clients. Oh BOY! No work on my book could be done while I struggled to finish two cancer articles, one pregnancy article and begin two more bylines for an author/client. I was very grateful for the work, because as luck would have it, my car broke down. And when I say broke down, I mean completely broke! I had wanted to sell it and get a hybrid this Fall, but in this condition, there was no way. The transmission cost $3,500 and required me to be without my car for a week. During this time, I had also started yoga teacher training. All the times were not completely convenient for me or my babysitter. Some morning training started at 6:30 / 7a.m.

Finally, last week, as the crescendo, someone hacked into my email system, compromising clients and friends and family—even nearly fooling my ex-husband into giving him money—pretending to be me having an emergency. My computer had to be shut down, the FBI contacted and an expert hired to fix and clean my machine. All this delayed my projects and even infected one of my editor’s machines.

Sigh.

So, what valuable life lessons did I learn during this period? Plenty!

Lesson One:  Prepare/Plan ahead.
From the freezer incident, I learned how great it was to cook ahead of time. With many of my frozen foods thawing, I began to cook with abandon, preparing marinated chicken dishes, cooking meats and fish, making sandwiches with cooked meats, and having every meal accounted for the entire week. Life went smoother. Similarly, the computer incident taught me that while some things can’t be helped (we still don’t know exactly how the hacker gained access to my account), I can back up my important documents with a new hard drive.

Lesson Two: New Beginnings are Energizing.
Cleaning the freezer, I realized how much I had kept in there that I didn’t use for years. Throwing out the old and cleaning the freezer, energized me. As I slowly restock the freezer, I am conscious about what I put in and what I will actually cook within the week.

Lesson Three: Let People Help You.
The car incident and my yoga training needs taught me to ask for help when I need it and to accept that help. I have no problem helping others. I do, however, feel badly about asking for help. But friends often want to and are honored when you trust them with important things, such as your children. As a single mom without family nearby, I need to reach out more. I started doing that and am grateful for the car borrowed and the help with my kids on days that I need it. I know that I’ll respond with love and assistance in the future.

Lesson Four:  BREATHE.
Sure, I had a lot of expenditures and demands on my time and stress that didn’t allow me to focus on my goal of putting in more writing on my book. I did, however,  keep my cool. I credit that completely with yoga and meditation. Instead of snapping, getting distracted, thinking (too many!) negative thoughts, etc. I took deep breaths and centered my mind. Daily yoga (even if at home for 20 minutes) and 10 minutes of meditation each morning or evening stilled my mind. I have to distance myself from all that stresses me and all that is out of my control, to garner the perspective I need to focus on all that is possible.

Lesson Five:  Slow Down.

If you’re stuck in the fast lane, spinning from moment to moment—something HAS TO GIVE. For me, these weeks were crazed because I had so many school and athletic demands for my oldest son and a preschool getting out at 11:45 a.m. daily for my youngest. ( Oct. 1st, we start full days!) It seems that California schools start later and ease into their year more slowly than East Coast schools. That’s just life. I also had soccer games and deadlines and yoga training. At the time, it felt like I couldn’t say no to any freelance projects as the car breakdown and all the school payments from PTAs and ed foundations and other multiple requests, meant that I could have easily spent nearly $6,000 additional this month alone. Now, I’m slowing down. There’s no reason to take every assignment or go to every event or contribute to the point of insanity.

Lesson Six:  Success isn’t a Destination, It’s a Daily Journey
As Andre Agassi said in a recent interview (Q&A in the October 2013 issue of The Red Bulletin): success isn’t a destination. “Setting goals and always meeting them doesn’t make you happy. It’s how you feel every night when you go to bed.”

“Success isn’t what comes out, it’s what you put in,” says Agassi. “Doing things completely or not at all. Caring about what you do. …  Don’t lie to yourself and look for shortcuts. Success isn’t a result. Success is a way of living you choose for yourself.”

Lesson Seven: Concentrate on What You Can Do

Instead of letting fear take over when stressed, focus on what can be done. For me, I could worry about losing clients or worry about paying all the bills and berate myself for not logging more pages in my book. Instead, I chose to concentrate on my strengths and what I could do—triaging daily what needed to be addressed. Agassi put it perfectly in his advice for child athletes (which is applicable to all of us setting goals): “You should concentrate on the things that you can influence—you can control your attitude, your work ethic, your concentration. If it’s windy or hot or something aches or you’re tired from the match yesterday, then you have to accept it.”

For me, each day, I have to concentrate of being present with my boys. Listening to them. Being in the moment at dinner, or during bathtime. It all counts. Making sure I don’t freak out, and am a good role model. That’s what matters most, at the end of the day, this matters so much more than whether I logged 10 pages. I will, however, log more pages as my schedule allows.

Lesson Eight: Be Kind To Yourself

Beating myself up will never help me accomplish my goals. Sure, I could have handled some things better. I could have backed up my computer, for instance. I could have stayed up till 1 a.m. and logged more pages in my book. But rehashing all of my mistakes and beating myself up doesn’t do anything. Over the past month I’ve really been introspective and honest about past mistakes and while that can be helpful when trying to improve, it can also be destructive if I let negative voices into my mind and constantly berate myself. Instead, as I drift off to sleep, I say to myself: I am doing the best that I can. I am exactly where I am meant to be right now. I am enough.

Final Lesson: Laugh Every Day

Even during all the mess, I love that my four-year-old, especially, makes me laugh. He demands that I look at him when he makes silly faces. He dances. He prances. He tickles. He skips. We have secret codes and games that make us laugh. Our latest is when he starts talking gibberish like Mr. Chatterbox and only I know what he’s trying to do as it’s our favorite bedtime story. We also have a daily competition on who loves each other most. “I love you more than an eagle!” he says. I respond: “I love you more than a pelican!” These moments last a lifetime. They sustain me. I only hope that as my little one gets older, I can keep finding ways to laugh a little each day—in spite of how my day may proceed.

Finding Forgiveness In Parenting

forgiveness

I took this photo months ago. It made me think of light shining through in the midst of dark and uncertain times. I also thought of forgiveness. Sometimes it takes just a shift, even a small one, to let the light peek through. Once it does, more possibilities bubble up, even from a sea of darkness. The evening of this sunset, I was specifically thinking of people in my life that I needed to forgive. Not necessarily to bring them back into my life, but to let go.

Today, however, after having some crazy, intense moments with my kids, I realize that forgiveness needs to be extended to myself. I need to be as forgiving of myself for not being a perfect parent, as I am of others. Why is that so hard for me to do?

As a single parent, I’m destined to have my fair share of more bad days to come. That’s just life. Parenting young children is hard for anyone—and days like yesterday and today evolve like emotional hurricanes leaving me breathless, exhausted and in a shell-shocked state of self doubt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have to surrender to this life.  Weekends are tough. And it’s not because I don’t want to hang with my boys. It’s actually because I do—and I have high expectations that get dashed.  I am not in control of how my days will go.

And maybe I’m in this position because I’m trying too hard? Maybe I don’t have to let my oldest son do so many activities? Maybe I need to be tougher with both of them? Right now, it’s hard to figure it out because, honestly, I’m bone tired. But what parent of young kids isn’t?

When a child tantrums over and over again, it’s almost impossible to find a sense of peace or calm or reassurance that everything will be okay. For instance, yesterday my four-year-old hit me. Today, he spit on me when he didn’t get what he wanted and yelled “I hate you!” None of this makes sense. He’s a four-year-old now acting like a two-year-old. It was exhausting. And there’s no need to go into all the ugly details and analyze whether I chose the right consequences for his bad behaviors. (There were many more, including stabbing furniture, hitting big brother and throwing apples…sigh…) But trust me, I don’t need to dissect the situations any further. I’ve already done it numerous times in my head.

Of course, I punished him. No, I didn’t hit him—although I wanted to. But what stayed with me, like a poisoned stone in my gut, was guilt. I worried about everything from whether this poor child has ADD, or whether he just needs a father, or whether I’m tough enough, consistent enough, loving enough, etc. … It’s exhausting and I’ve been through enough already.

It’s time to let go of this self-critical voice in my head fueling guilt. I’ve been riddled with guilt my whole life for not doing everything perfectly. It doesn’t help that I’ve been a parenting editor and have read so many parenting theories and books. It seems to add to the continuous doubting voice in my head and ensures that I never give myself a break. When really bad behavior erupts, I start second guessing everything I do and this voice lays into me like a nagging family member.

My ex used to jokingly call me “Mary Poppins: Perfect in Every Way.” He’d say it in a silly voice when making fun of me while I was in the throws of creating the perfect party invitations or painting our son’s nursery … I threw myself into parenting my oldest son. I admit, my world did revolve around his every milestone for quite a while. Now, I’m just winging it and every day doesn’t work out the way I’d like. But I’ve been doing this solo gig for almost 4 years and I need to forgive myself for not always doing everything exactly right.  I don’t always respond immediately and firmly. Sometimes I yell.  But I consistently say I love you. I consistently say I’m sorry when I yell. I consistently keep trying. It’s okay that I can’t do it all.

I ran across this wonderful post “To Parents of Small Children, Let Me Be The One Who Says It Outloud” by Steve Wiens. I loved it. I feel it. And what it says to me, as a single mom, is that forgiveness is crucial.

So, today was a bad day. At times, I wanted to throw in the towel. But you know what? I never will.  And that is finally something to be proud of.

Praying Mantis Sends a Message?

This mysterious creature came to visit me the eve before Thanksgiving. Isn’t it amazing? As I snapped this close-up, she actually turned her head inquisitively, as if sizing me up. It’s large eyes and triangular shaped head then shifted and looked at me from the other direction. I stood motionless for a moment. What an intelligent, thoughtful, surprise visitor! I was baking a pie, the night before Thanksgiving, and she walked, easy as you please, right past my strawberry-apple pie. She seemed to know where she was going. Very determined to say the least.

By the time she reached my fork, I took the close-up picture and then found a helper to put the insect in the back yard—where she’d be less likely to get stepped on or eaten by a playful pet.

After this surprise visit, I started thinking about the significance of seeing a praying mantis in your home, or so close in range. I had had a disturbing dream the night before seeing this creature and felt like both were trying to send me a message. I began googling for information and found more than I needed. The most impressive came from fellow wordpress blogger Claude S. of Anything Box, who provided an amazing description of the praying mantis:

“Excellent hunters with an efficient attack strategy the praying mantis always knows the right moment for attack and for retreat. Time in the linear sense is irrelevant to the mantis.  They move according to their inner instincts and remind us to do the same.  Moving effortlessly between worlds the mantis is associated with time travel. They help us break out of linear time and move according to our personal bio rhythms.

The praying mantis can remain motionless for an indefinite period. This ability helps them blend with their environment becoming invisible to predators. They hold the secrets of materialization and de-materialization and awaken this ability in people who hold this medicine.  Perception through stillness is part of its teaching.”

If the mantis can remain motionless for long periods of time, in order to blend into its environment, what possessed this mantis to walk right past me as I’m putting together a pie and step up onto my fork like that? Well, apparently, legend has it that if a praying mantis comes to you in your house, it is a good sign of things to come. But others say it could be an omen or the visit is trying to force you to re-evaluate issues in your life.

Claude S. interpreted his mantis visit as a wake-up call:

“Patient, perceptive and focused this little totem holds a powerful message. When it appears in your life it is asking you to direct your energy, your thoughts or your actions in a different way. Asking the following questions can give you the insight necessary to motivate appropriate changes.  Have I lost patience with a particular situation?  Have I been too patient, and if so, has this had a detrimental affect on me?  Is my perception correct regarding a situation?  Have I become narrow minded? Am I focused on my objective?”

Very intriguing and appropriate questions for me at this point in my life. Perhaps in yours, too?

Apparently, many think the praying mantis symbolizes magical qualities. One google search showed me this list (which I believe originated from In Signs, Symbols & Omens: An Illustrated Guide to Magical & Spiritual Symbolism, written by Raymond Buckland (2003: 231))

Mantis’s Wisdom Includes:

* Ability to manipulate time

* Power to move between moments

* Understanding of the circular nature of time

* Power of stillness

* Female warrior energy

* Attack strategy

I’d like to think that seeing this praying mantis so close-up was a good sign of things to come. Perhaps it was a wake-up call—or a call to look more closely at  situations or issues in my life. I don’t know about its particular message, but I like the qualities that a mantis represents: the power of stillness and female warrior energy, especially.

I could use a little female warrior energy! Sometimes it’s still hard for me to ask for what I need, or to quickly recognize when a situation isn’t healthy. I’m growing and learning each day to shed my co-dependent ways. This holiday season I’m striving to find more peace and stillness and less stressful situations for my boys. Incorporating some praying mantis tactics such as staying still, observing situations calmly and listening to my inner instincts, can only be good additions to my life. How about yours?

Eating Fresh in Tuscany

Salad greens fresh from the garden with local wine from Montepulciano.

When you think of Italian food, your mind likely drifts to pizza, spaghetti, cold cuts such as Proscuitto and Parma ham or cheeses like Pecorino or Mozzarella. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But I’m finding that the abundant fresh fruit and vegetables are just as much a part of the Tuscan daily life. Eating vegetables just picked from a garden is a luxury for Americans—but the norm for Tuscans.

A neighbor’s summer garden.

Massive round zucchinis grow in many backyards.

In every yard of field, you’ll find gorgeous, plentiful gardens.

Apricots dangle temptingly down a local wall.

And many of the fruit and nut trees, bushes and plants I photographed during a recent morning walk through our Tuscan village were found along the roadside or in ditches or over walls. It’s remarkable the sheer amount of fresh fruit and nuts that I found on a one hour stroll!

Fig trees like this grow along the roadside with plentiful fruit almost ready to be picked.

It seems that walnuts, almonds, apricots, figs, plums and artichokes (carciofis, my favorite!) grow like weeds in this area of the world.

Yummy plums along a dirt road.

A walnut dropped on the road from a plentiful, old tree.

Artichokes!

Gorgeous pears.

Mysterious blue berries in a ditch near an abandoned field. They weren’t our blue berries, as we tasted them! Perhaps ripening black currants?

Pomegranates?

As we looped back around from town and through the surrounding fields, we then, of course, came across the staples of Tuscany: grapes from vineyards with champagne grapes, semolina wheat fields and olives.

Olives, almost ready for harvesting.

Semolina wheat field recently harvested.

Sinalunga champagne grapes

The local Tuscan olive oil company.

Permission to Feel Again

“Like the tiny spark of fire that consumes a forest, the spark of love is all you need to experience love in its full power and glory, in all its aspects, earthly and divine.”
Deepak Chopra

Experts like Deepak Chopra often tell us that “living in the present moment is what best serves us.” In fact, I received an email today on that topic from his website. I think it is a wise sentiment, but one that can be truly hard for women going through divorce (or for anyone whose “present moment” is far from peaceful.) For women experiencing separation or a contentious divorce, it can be extremely hard to live in the moment—AND for it to be healthy—when one is living in fear. So many of my friends and readers who are going through a divorce know just what I mean. There is financial fear. There is emotional fear. There is fear of litigation. There may be nasty text messages or phone messages or child custody issues. There may be moments of dread and longing and regret and guilt—so much so—that you may get temporarily consumed with thoughts about mistakes from the past, or future moments for your children. All of these feelings are okay, and perhaps do need to be felt. And yet, they can keep us apart from our every-day lives. They keep us from making good decisions. They can consume us. They can keep us from enjoying the moment, our surroundings, our friends, our children, our community.

And with all that going on in our minds, how then, can we possibly allow ourselves to open up, be vulnerable, and to feel again? How does it allow for spontaneity or making new friends? How can we begin to love ourselves again?

I discovered this ancient temple outside Cortona, Italy the other week, on a day when fear was bubbling up again as I thought about my boys back in the States and pending issues with my divorce. As I snapped pictures of this basilica, I saw how weathered, yet proud it seemed—how elegant and timeless. I decided that each one of us going through hard times such as a divorce needs to remember that we are elegant and timeless. We need to be less hard on ourselves, less judgmental, less critical. We need to forgive ourselves. We need to be okay with not being perfect.

Meditation helps tremendously for those who become a bit panic-ridden or consumed with fear. As ironic as it seems, letting go of all of our fears for a few minutes—just breathing and thinking of nothing but our breath—helps to let go of the pain and just be.

I’ve been meditating almost every day while I’ve been in Italy. I breathe deeply, let go of any guilt or fear and just observe what I am feeling. It’s so nice to be allowed your feelings. There is nothing wrong with being angry or sad or unsure.

Italians are certainly not people to hold in their feelings. As I walk around our village I hear loud discussions over card games or dinner. I hear much laughter. I also sometimes hear yelling, but luckily, it doesn’t last long. I see couples that kiss very passionately without any qualms or embarrassment. I see women holding hands, men kiss hello and children who run and hug each other. It’s nice to be among people who feel deeply and whose culture embraces that.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with fears that are consuming you as your embark on your divorce, I encourage you to meditate. If you can, sign up for the Chopra 21-day meditation challenge. http://www.chopracentermeditation.com/

If that is too much for you, give yourself five minutes to just breathe. Don’t think about anything other than listening to your heart. It will awaken again some day. You will get over your pain and your sorrow. You will forgive yourself. You will let go of the criticisms thrust upon you. You will trust someone again, some day. Just listen to your heart and breathe deeply with each thought. Set an intention for your day. Today, mine is to listen. I will listen to myself and to others.

Have a wonderful day my friends. Tomorrow I am off to Naples in the search of the world’s best pizza. Food, is my new passion. Stay tuned! 🙂

Bagno Vignoni: Ancient Natural Spa

I was determined to visit the ancient Tuscan village of Bagno Vignoni after reading a tiny mention about it in Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine  last month. Little did I know that it would be so close to our villa! This ancient gem is home to natural warm mineral baths that Italians have travelled to for hundreds of years—typically en route to and from Rome.

When you turn off the road just before San Quirico d’Orcia, you drive into the small village with the age-old vocation as a spa. If you don’t go off the beaten path, you’ll come into this petite rectangular village with a main square wrapped around a 49 meter long pool with ancient travertine buildings and a palace erected by Bernardo Rossellino for Pope Pius II.

As you sit in the shade by this pool, you’ll notice bubbles emerging from the center that are from the outlying hot springs whose therapeutic qualities have been reknown since antiquity. A 16th century inscription calls these waters, “sacred to the nymphs.”

But if you want to travel to the outlying hot springs, you need to get on foot and walk behind the village and off the beaten path. It is well worth the trek. … And Free. You can pay to have expensive treatments within the walls of hotels in Bagno Vignoni, but why not trek down to a natural aquamarine pool at the foot of a water fall?

I took my boyfriend’s 19-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, who urged me, after we waded in the gorgeous opalescent waters and rubbed blue mud on our skin, to hike up to the water fall.

Interestingly, after centuries of mineral water flowing over them, the rocks and stone around the pools have turned into a porous, non-slippery surface.

It’s amazing as it allows you to hike barefoot, and even through the water at steep angles, without the slightest fear of sliding.

I began to feel as if I had landed on another planet.

The kids were having a ball, as the sole visitors to hike up to the water fall where the source of the waters were hotter than most showers. The feeling was amazing.

As I hiked down from the water fall, back to the pool below, the breeze from the hills surrounding the village seemed to whisper to me. My spirits lifted, even in the extreme heat.

Certain things will always bring peace and well-being: a bit of exercise, sunshine, friendly faces and a gentle breeze.

Add warm mineral waters and mud—and you’ve got a combination for deep relaxation, known for centuries.

Tuning in to the Rhythms of Tuscany

I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.

The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.

I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is  in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.

We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:

I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.

I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.

I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.

When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”

And I did.