Making Widgets in a Cave

cave-828604_1280I envy people who knew, as children, exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. People, who at the tender age of ten or twelve, knew without a doubt they were going to be a doctor, a deep-sea diver or a circus performer. Me, I didn’t have a clue. Well, I did until I came to understand that humans couldn’t actually grow up to be another species. I wanted to be a horse. Seemed logical to me at the time but when that option was no longer available to me I had no idea how to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

And as I got older the answer to the question still eluded me. The only clues that I had to what my perfect career would be was the persistent image I had in my head of me working alone in a dimly lit space doing something. Although I had no idea what that something was. The best way I could articulate it was I wanted to make widgets in a cave. I know, a strange answer but I never said I was normal.

Recently, my two older sisters and I got together for a girl’s weekend and we were reminiscing about our teenage years. The conversation turned to the single time I got drunk. Amy quipped that the one time I left my bedroom I ended up sitting on a curb with my best friend looking for butterflies. I laughed but she was right. I preferred to spend my time reading or making up stories. Or hanging upside down and looking at the ceiling and imagining what it would be like if all the furniture was on the ceiling and we had to step over beams and around light fixtures to get around.

Did I mention I’m an introvert? Was I born this way or was it environmental? My best guess would be a little bit of both but that doesn’t really matter, what matters is that I was always seeking alone time, quiet secluded spaces which wasn’t easy growing up in a family of seven in a small three bedroom, one bath bungalow.

And to clarify, introversion does not mean I don’t like people or that I’m shy. What it means is that what an extrovert deems normal when it comes to environmental stimulus like crowds, bright lights, noise and even visual stimulation like shopping in a large department store is draining to me. It’s like being under constant attack by sounds, sights and smells. It makes me extremely tired and withdrawn and downright cranky.

And I’m not agoraphobic. I can and do leave the house several times a week, it’s just that my forays into the world are short and usually it’s to the library or the small shops in my village. I just don’t need the same about of interaction with the outside world as extroverts do.

This brings me back to feeling that my dream job was a vague desire to make something by myself in a quiet softly lit space. Making widgets in a cave.

It would take be thirty-six years to get some of this equation right. This was when I decided to write novels. It met most of my requirements, long hours working by myself usually in my bedroom, I was creating something that was uniquely my own but as far as paying the bills I was still required to take outside work. And I love writing, three novels later I still am enthralled with the craft but it requires patience and perseverance. Writing and publishing is a process that takes years. And I was a bit surprised to feel that this wasn’t quite what I was getting at when the cave analogy bubbled up from my subconscious.

And then a year ago, I found my vocation that thing that had been calling to me for decades. Within a span of two weeks, two of my friends mentioned whisper videos on YouTube. I have no recollection why this topic came up in conversation but when I asked what a whisper video was they both explained that people would watch videos of people talking or reading out loud in a soft whispery voice because they found it relaxing. Both my friends found this a bit weird but not me.

In that same time frame, one of my nieces was watching something on her computer with her headphones on. I glanced over at the screen and it looked like she was watching a young man re-pot a plant but he was moving slowly and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time tapping against a terra-cotta planter.

When she’d finished watching the video I asked what it was. She replied matter-of-factly that she was watching an ASMR video.

“An ARSM what?” I asked, jumbling the unfamiliar letters.

“You know,” she said, “whispering videos where people do ordinary things or role-plays that create that tingly sensation on the top or your head and makes you sleepy and relaxed.”

When she explained this I knew exactly what she was referring to, I just didn’t know it had a name or that other people experienced the sensation. I remembered watching Bob Ross on our public TV station painting his happy little trees and being lulled by his soft voice and the sound of his brushes scratching on the canvas. (Little did I know that most ASMR viewers and creators call Bob Ross the grandfather of ASMR).

bob-rossI would also get a tingly feeling on the top of my head followed by a pleasant drowsiness like the moments right before you fall asleep. I also liked to watch golf tournaments because of the quiet way the commentator spoke; it was my favourite way to fall asleep on a Sunday afternoon. I thought my reaction to these two TV programs was just another weird thing that I did, this time to calm myself or to relax. Turns out I’m not the only one.

So I turned on my computer and searched ASMR on YouTube and settle down to watch the queen of ASMR, Marie from Gentlewhispering. I think my first video was Maria folding towels. Just watching this everyday activity, done with slowness and care, while she talked in a quiet calming voice created a reaction just like when I watched Bob Ross. The top of my head tingled and I felt sleepy and relaxed.

It doesn’t take a lot of equipment to make these videos, just a camera, a fairly decent recorder or mic, basic video editing software, a computer and a YouTube account. Although it does take more time than you think to film, edit and upload the final product not to mention finding a time when it is quiet so that the audio isn’t full of outside noise.

It wasn’t long after discovering ASMR that I recorded my first video and I was hooked. Not only was I making widgets in a cave, it was the exact feeling I was trying to describe when I would say this. I love making these videos because of the creativity involved, the challenge of learning how to use all of the equipment and also the helping nature of these videos plays into my desire to nurture and help people (I’m a Reiki Master and certified Reflexologist and spent several years working in the wellness and spa industry).

Now the medical profession poo poos the possibility that these video can actually help people with insomnia, chronic pain or anxiety to find relief and sleep because there has been no scientific studies to back up these claims, but I was disagree (and so do the millions of people who watch ASMR videos). Even Dr. Oz showcased ASMR on his daytime show and supported the idea especially since it is non-addictive, drug free alternative. And I recently found an article on Oprah.com suggesting watching ASMR to get a good night sleep.

ASMR is still in its infancy and is still developing not just as an art form but as a healing tool so for now it may not have hit the mainstream acceptance but I also remember when I first started incorporating Reiki into my wellness practice. No one had really heard of it and one of my regular clients really wanted a treatment but she had to speak to her priest first to see if it would be okay and to reassure her that I wasn’t practicing some kind of devil worship. Her priest gave her the okay and she became a regular Reiki client. And now several years later, everyone has heard of Reiki and even western medicine has embraced the benefits of this healing tool.

For now, writing and making ASMR videos are my vocations rather than paying jobs but I am content for now because it is just as important to me to feel I am fulfilling a soul desire as it is to have them be my means of income. And the biggest lesson I’ve learned from becoming an ASMRtist is that your intuition will guide you to what you are here to do, the trick is to understand the difference between when you want it to show up and allowing Divine timing to unfold naturally. For me it took decades to find my cave and the widgets I needed to make because I needed to wait for YouTube to be invented, for the technology to be created that would allow everyday people the ability to create, edit and upload videos and  for the  ASMR community to be established.

So if you experience ASMR or you are just curious you can check out my YouTube channel, Wise Woman Whispers or if you wanted to explore other ASMRtist just type ASMR into the search box on YouTube. And remember to wear your headphones when listening.

Advertisements

Feathering My New Nest

 

An African Violet growing on the kitchen window sill

An African Violet growing on the kitchen window sill

I have moved so many times in my life that I can unpack and set up my home in three weeks flat. That includes scrubbing down every cupboard and countertop, and washing all the walls and floors. I don’t care how clean my new space looks on the surface; I need to do a deep clean before I unpack partly so I know it is clean to my standard but also to remove the previous owner’s energy. And by touching every wall and surface I get to know the feel of the space.

Once that is done, I will unpack the things I need for daily living but the finishing touches I leave for at least two months. Knick knacks and treasures stay in their boxes and pictures lay against the wall waiting to be hung.

Feathers in an old jar, poppy seedpods in a vase and a silver tea service

Feathers in an old jar, poppy seed pods in a vase and a silver tea service

I didn’t always do this. In my earlier moves, I was in such a rush to make the alien space I was moving into with its odd smells and unfamiliar sounds feel safe and familiar that I would slap up pictures and artwork and arrange my treasures willy-nilly just to banish the strangeness to the corners of the room. Quickly putting out my things so I could see and touch the familiar like a security blanket.

It calmed me down to have my things out in the new environment but in not considering the personality of my new abode, how the energy and light flowed through the space, where it got stuck and the air stuffy or how I would use the space every day I would inevitably have to go back and rearrange the wall art and displays and sometimes even the furniture layout and function of a space.

StrangePicture

Birthday cards in inexpensive white frames

 

If you want to have a great relationship with your house and make it feel like a home you need to spend a few months getting to know each other. Then and only then do I place my things out in locations that both honour the treasures and the home, creating a harmonious new union.

mantle

Vintage clock and glass votive holders on the mantle

So for the few months I was learning about my new space, getting to know its quirks I started watching beauty gurus on YouTube. My discoveries on beauty and the modern young woman is a blog for another day, but what I noticed with the majority of these bright young things is that their spaces were beautifully decorated with the same design esthetic, soft grey or white walls, white lacquered tables, white or grey tailored sofas, lots of silver or rose gold to add sparkle, fresh flowers and gleaming pristine kitchens. These spaces all looked like they came ready-made out of the pages of a design magazine.

I remember being in my early twenties and setting up my first apartments, the thrill of picking out furniture and accessories, cookware and towels, although it would be several years and apartments later that I could afford to buy new. But I remember adopting the latest trend in home design from top to bottom. If a home reflects who you are, in your twenties you are still relatively fresh out of the package without much life experience to shape your taste in the space you call home.

When you are older you have more memories, experiences and a clearer understanding of who you are down to what you prefer as opposed to what others would have you like. I’m sure that if I were twenty-something today, my space would look just like all those fabulous young YouTubers right down to the granite counter tops in a kitchen that is never used except to make a salad or tea.

YourStoryPicture

Vintage prints and modern plaque

But in my well-worn skin, I like my spaces to feel comfortable, cozy and relaxed. My ideal design esthetic is an English country home where the décor pieces have been handed down for generations, telling stories of the lives of the people who inhabited the home, of furniture that is slightly threadbare giving the whole place a feel of benign neglect where dogs are welcome to snooze on sofas with slightly sagging cushions and where there is always something delicious simmering on the Aga in a kitchen that is more utilitarian than sleek.

PieandRooster

Home-made Lemon Meringue pie cooling on the counter

 

So dear readers, whether you are in your twenties or, like me, inching every closer to fifty, what does your current space look like? Does it reflect your authentic self? And what is the style of decorating that resonates with you?

A New Place – A New Garden

The Garden Goddesses are smiling on me yet again, sending me gifts and the ability to garden to my heart’s content despite what appeared to be my very limited options this spring. I recently moved to a lovely small town but the place I am renting is a three-story condo. There is no yard or garden, just a very long narrow balcony that faces East.

My Suburban Garden

My Suburban Garden

Since moving to the Fraser Valley, I’ve had access to a small suburban garden where my landlady (who happens to be my sister) gave me permission to remove some of the sod to create a small veggie patch. I also had the sheer joy of collaborating with Jenn Stack with the help of my older sister, Cari, in reviving a large neglected farm garden at Stack Family Farms.

Stack Family Farm Garden

Stack Family Farm Garden

After my recent move, much to my delight, my nieces and sister have taken over the city garden and planted veggies and their favorite raspberries and pumpkins. And the last time I’d spoke with Jenn she was tackling her garden on her own. Gardening really is contagious.

So with a twinge of disappointment, I surveyed my new garden area. I always love a challenge and it’s been decades since I was limited to terrace gardening. I had resigned myself to the fact that because of the space available and that it only received morning sun I would only be able to plant a few flowers, and as far as veggies, it would have to be lettuces and a few herbs.

But then the Nature Spirits and Flower Faeries heard my call. On move-in day, our landlady (not my sister this time but just a lovely) mentioned the town had a community garden and for a mere 25 dollars a year residents could rent an allotment. But there was a long waiting list so if I wanted a chance to have a small plot to dig in I need to get on the list and fast.

I called the next day and was told the lady in charge of the allotments was on holiday for a month but she would call when she got back. After a month I didn’t hear from her so I figured having an allotment wasn’t in the cards, at least for this year.

My Balcony Garden

My Balcony Garden

I told myself to be grateful for the space on the balcony that I did have and I started filling planter after planter with sweet peas, bachelor buttons, cosmos, geraniums and tall grasses to block the ugly view of the neighbouring apartment’s garage. And then the call came. At first there was only a half a plot available which I quickly agreed to take and then a few days later I was told I’d been assigned a full 20 feet by 20 feet garden space.

My Community Garden Plot

My Community Garden Plot

So now I have two gorgeous garden spaces, each with its own purpose and beauty. And I have come to appreciate that my balcony is in deep shade from one in the afternoon as it is only May and the temperature is well into the mid-twenties.

View surrounding my community garden plot

View surrounding my community garden plot

Geraniums Blooming on the Balcony

Geraniums Blooming on the Balcony

I should know by now, if what I desire is in alignment with my highest good then whatever it is flows into my life with no struggle on my part. Sometimes it requires hard work and effort but never frustration or setbacks. The Universe and Garden Faeries for that matter really do want to co-create with us in the most beautiful way possible.

So, I guess The Rolling Stones were right;

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need.

The Mean Time: Embracing the Slow Vibration

clock-590293_1280Isn’t it curious that we desire our lives to be a constant upward progression of positive and pleasant events? We want our lives to unfold in ever increasing abundance, accomplishments, and success. But if you are over twenty you have enough experience with this thing called life to know that’s not how it works. Life is more like an EKG of a healthy heartbeat, a repeating cycle of upward peaks followed by downward troughs. Perhaps our hearts understand the rhythm of life better than our minds do; that there is a wisdom to these downtimes when nothing appears to be happening, when all our goals and dreams seem to stagnate. Whether or not we choose to embrace these meantimes and in between times is another matter altogether.

I am currently participating in a seminar series held by, spiritual teacher and empathic healer, Matt Kahn. A couple of weeks ago he presented a new way of looking at life’s downtimes not as a negative but as a gift from the Divine and part of our normal and healthy cycle of existence.

He says:

“So many of us have intuition about what’s ahead in life’s plan and we want what’s up ahead in a chapter of our existence where it is not time to receive it. We want to be high vibration when life says ‘no it’s time to be slow vibration, slow down let’s learn from these lessons, let’s integrate  these insights’ so that when you get to that point of your journey you will be able to handle and receive it.”

And while I understand these deep truths my first and only reaction to the slowing down has been resistance. I ignore the pull of slowing down by working harder, doing more, sending out more query letters and resumes and writing more daily pages. When these efforts don’t pick up the pace of my life, the inevitable frustration, anger and depression would set in.

Instead of resting and reflecting and allowing silence to percolate the deeper more uncomfortable feeling to rise up and be released I would distract myself with books, bingeing on Netflix and constantly checking emails and my Facebook page. I would grasp for anything (even cleaning the grout in the bathroom) to avoid the inconvenient and uncomfortable feelings that persisted.

And then my life would move forward in its own time and in circumstances that I hadn’t anticipated or planned. You’d think as a garden, one so connected to the cycles of the seasons, I would have made the connection that in life so in our human experience.

As Matt explains it;

“Slow vibration by comparison is not as pleasurable as high vibration . . . but be that as it may, blossoming as a flower might be more outrageously pleasurable than a seed underground that has to explode in every direction in order for that flower to blossom but it is necessary for one to create space for the other.

I’ve recently moved to a new town. I’ve unpacked the last box and placed the final stick of furniture in its place and now . . . and now, I find myself in a slow vibration, again. It is early spring, the in between time of the seasons and like spring I too am in between jobs, in between book releases, figuring out the lay of the land in a strange town and getting used to the unfamiliar sounds and feelings of a new place.

I still have moments when I reach for the chocolate and watch yet another episode on Netflix but this time, more often than not, I walk towards the silence and just see what arises without judgement or fear. Last week, I put in the first veggie crop in my new place and as I sprinkled carrots seeds and pushed onions sets into the warm soil it reminded me that I too have been put into the seed phase again, a time to strengthen my foundation and put my energy into expanding in all directions deep below the surface so that when the time comes I can head into the light and bloom extravagantly.

bouquet-691862_1280

A Gardener’s Tale

My Little City Garden

My Little City Garden

This is a story of the power of a wish and how once it was released into the universe created its own magic. After my sister and I moved from our hobby farm back to suburbia I pined for my large vegetable and flower gardens. I did what I could with the backyard space available, creating a tiny veggie patch by the garden shed and adding to the flowers in the existing perennial borders. But after two seasons of gardening in this small plot my gardener’s soul yearned for more space and bigger challenges.

The previous summer, Cari and I ventured down to the local farmers’ market. The first stall we happened upon was Stack Family Farm. The owner/farmer Jenn Stack was selling her organic, ethically raised beef, pork, lamb and chicken along with fresh eggs. The three of us started talking and found out she’d just moved to the area so she was a newbie too. We looked over her pictures of her farm, becoming more misty-eyed and homesick for our own little acreage in the woods.

She had a Facebook page for her business and so we promptly started stalking following her online. And last winter I saw a posting on her page that made me stop breathing. She was looking for help with her vegetable garden. She said she wasn’t much of a gardener and desperately needed someone who was willing to share their experience and the work for half of the produce. There were several other replies to her call for help and as I put in my reply I whispered under my breath, pick me, pick me. And she did.

We arranged to meet on a cold February morning to check out the garden and to see if we would be a good fit for what she was looking for. As Cari and I drove up a very narrow winding road and over a little trestle bridge I knew where I was going, because I’d been there before.

A year before we moved to Mission, I had come down to visit our other sister, Amy whom we would eventually move in with. During that visit, my nieces and I went for a country drive. We ended up on that windy narrow road and drove past a beautiful farm that happened to be for sale. I did spend a few days daydreaming about what it would be like to own such a picturesque property and then forgot about the experience until that day we drove up to Stack Family Farms.

Garden Potential 3When Jenn showed us the large empty plot surrounded by a snow fence, choked by weeds, the only things planted a few sickly blueberry bushes and straggly raspberry canes I felt a bubble of excitement. This was going to be a challenge. The plot hadn’t been gardened in two years and all that she’d managed to do the previous year was rototill half of the soil until the rototiller gave up.

It wasn’t until we had started gardening that Jenn admitted she was terrified that we would look at the overgrown weed infested area and tell her thanks but no thanks. I laughed when she told me this because when I saw the area I was thrilled at the possibilities I was just nervous she wouldn’t say yes to our help.

And so began our adventure. We spent the rainy month of March hand-digging the plot, removing endless wheelbarrows of weeds and laying out the beds. The great thing about gardening on a working farm is there are an abundance of soil amendments at your fingertips. With the help of Jenn’s son who drove the tractor, we incorporated bucket loads of well-rotted manure in the raised beds and used animal bedding and old hay for the walkways to suppress the weeds.

Cari gets help in the garden

Cari gets help in the garden

We also had other help as we began to turn the soil and mix in the manure. The laying hens would come as soon as they heard us arrive. We invited them in to help us turn the soil and they were paid handsomely in grubs and cut-worms and the occasional earthworm if they worked extra hard.

The garden was located in the ideal location, close to the house at the front of the property with a water spigot right next to the snow fence that surrounded the garden. The previous owners had moved an old outhouse to the back of the garden and although no longer functioning as a privy became the ideal place to store garden tools and extra bamboo stakes and pots.

digging in the dirtThen came the planting. It is no secret that I’m a planner especially gardens. On the first day of planting I showed up with my plant lists and a detailed (and yes it was a scaled drawing) of the veggie beds, showing what plants were to go where based on companion and succession planting and how I needed the beds to rotate for the coming year. I showed Cari and Jenn where things should go but when my back was turned the two of them would plunk things in willy-nilly. Cari’s thoughts were, well there is a little bit of space here and she had just a few more seeds so why not put them in the ground. Jenn wanted strawberries and more raspberry canes. I showed her the areas and how much of each plant we would need and then I would get an email saying she’d gotten a great deal or extra plants for free. So instead of 30 strawberry plants we ended up with 70 and triple the number of raspberry canes I had planned. So despite my careful planning change agents named Cari and Jenn kept adding new challenges in the mix and reminding me that sometimes I just needed to loosen up and go with the flow.

IMG184Once the tender plants began to send up shoots, the chickens were banned from the garden but would patrol the fence line knowing they would get an occasional morsel from us grateful gardeners. The plastic fence worked most of the time, but when a resident mole decided the fluffy turned soil rich in insect life was a better hunting ground than the acres of pasture surrounding it we were constantly at war with the little guy. After chasing it out with a water hose and putting windmills in the ground, we declared a truce.

Sometimes the invaders were even larger. In late June; I received a frantic and very apologetic email from Jenn. Turns out that her son’s 4H steer had gotten out of the pasture and into the garden. From her email it sounded as if he had decimated the plants. With heavy hearts, Cari and I showed up at the farm for our scheduled work in the garden fully expecting to see churned up soil and no plants. But it wasn’t as bad as Jenn said. Yes the fence needed repairs and there were some rather large hoof prints in the beds and a few plants had been nibbled but all in all nothing the garden couldn’t recover from. The blueberry bushes had received the brunt of the devastation just as the shrubs were loaded with berries ready to pick.

 

IMG237Leaving the noise and rush of the city and heading out to the farm was like shedding layers of stress and tension. The moment we stepped out of the vehicle to be greeted by the five farm dogs both Cari and I could feel something shift. Even if the days chores included heavy hauling and digging our spirits would lift, our heart rates drop and a sense of ease and peace would surround us. Farms are not quiet places of solitude, they are noisy but it is a different kind of sound, I think one that instinctively feels like home. The sound of the animals calling to each other, the cluck and coo of the chickens, the sigh of the wind through the trees is more like a symphony than the cacophony that surrounds the city dweller.

Moma goat and babyBeing out on the farm meant Cari could get her animal fix be it dogs or farm animals. We were there when the goats had their babies and Jenn brought out a newborn just hours old for us to hold, Cari took a turn at milking the cow and the goats something she really enjoyed doing and I became the go-to-girl when it came to wrangling the odd chicken that escaped the property and decided to check out what really was across the road. We were reminded too about the natural cycle of life and death. From the farm animals being sent to slaughter so that we can have meat on our table to witnessing a mother bobcat providing for her offspring by snatching one of the chickens out of the garden.

Over the summer, we fell into a routine where we would arrive in the morning and be greeted by the dogs and the chickens. Jenn would be off in the barn dealing with the cows, sheep, goats, horses and chickens. If she had time she would help in the garden and by two in the afternoon we would finish for the day. The three of us and Jenn’s two son’s would gather under the cherry tree just outside the garden or more often than not, we each would plunk ourselves down on a patch of hay in between the garden beds and spend the rest of the afternoon talking and enjoying the fine weather. Even the dogs would come and join us and on occasion when Jenn’s husband was home he too would wander out as if drawn my some magic and pull up a patch of ground to join the group.

Guard Dog on Duty

Guard Dog on Duty

So as I write this I do so with a bit of sadness that all gardeners feel at this time of year. The garden has been largely put to bed for the winter and just two beds have been planted with winter crops and the kale is the only thing still thriving. Our regular trips out to the centre of our soul will be coming to an end soon, at least for the winter. And like any fanatical gardener I have already spent time drawing up new plans for the coming spring and pouring over catalogues deciding what new experiments in gardening we should try.

A wish made in earnest, coincidences and synchronicities came together to grant my heart’s desire. And although our garden was a success and gave us beautiful vegetables that fed two families over the season it also provided something I hadn’t anticipated, something more precious than any plant we cared for; a new friendship that will continue to grow and flourish even in the dark days of winter.Fall Collage

Audie The Cat Bird

Audie closeupAudie is an orange tabby that my nieces adopted last spring. She came with the name Autumn because of her colouring; her coat is a reddish gold instead of the typical pale orange. It only took a few weeks after she arrived to realize her name didn’t really fit her.

I’m not sure which one of us started calling her Audie first but it suited her and the name stuck. She has striking markings and eyes that are such a pale yellow that she looks slightly dazed or crazy all the time. Along with her fiery colouring, she is fine-boned with a delicate face but her back end is rather large. It’s as if she’d been fashioned from two different sized cats. But her name isn’t just a reflection of her funny body shape or otherworldly eyes, it goes deeper than that.

Cats are far less domesticated than dogs and far more independent. But like dogs they have a range of behaviours some that are more prevalent in specific breeds. Long-haired black cats are the most docile and friendly. The most aggressive and prey-driven are orange tabbies. I can attest to the truth of the researchers’ finding as I have had both types of cats in my life over the years. Currently I have three tabbies one who happens to be an orange tabby like Audie. His name is Frankie and he was an outdoor cat before we adopted him from the neighbours. He was a first class hunter; no mouse, vole or bird was safe when he was around and he is usually the first to start a fight with the other cats. Yup, typical orange tabby.

So according to the research, Frankie and Audie share the same DNA and heritage and should both share a similar nature. But that’s not the case. Audie isn’t aggressive or territorial and has no desire to hunt. She is allowed to go outside into the backyard because of her gentle nature and the fact that she never wanders away.

We have a feeder for the sparrows, chickadees and juncos and a hummingbird feeder hanging from the same tree. When Audie was first allowed outside, the birds would scatter when they saw her coming but over time they realized she had no interest in eating them. She does wear a collar and bell but she really doesn’t need the bell to warn the birds because she’s become one of their flock. She doesn’t want to hunt them, or kill them or eat them. She just wants to be near them and watch them at the feeders.

Now they allow her to nestle in under their feeders, quietly watching. And when they feed on the ground they will sometimes come only inches away from her paws. They have also begun to rely on her as an early warning system. When other cats wander into the yard she goes on alert and thus warn her feathered friends.

It’s a good thing Audie isn’t aware she isn’t conforming to who she is supposed to be otherwise she wouldn’t have found such delight in her adopted feathered family. Not such a bad way to live your life when you think about it.

Audie Collage

Chesterfield of Dreams

AfricanvioletIt’s been a month of soaring temperatures and oppressive heat.  Even with the blinds closed and several fans running, my apartment is sweltering.  The only solution is to head outside in search of shade and the faint hope of catching a breeze.

My apartment opens onto a covered patio so finding shade wasn’t a problem but the available seating left a great deal to be desired. But that’s where my sister, the Garage Sale Guru, the Diva of Dumpster Diving came to my rescue.

She’d recently plucked a rather sad-looking bamboo and wicker sofa from someone’s front lawn.  Don’t worry, she didn’t steal it, the owners had stuck a free sign on it before my sister scooped it up and shoved it in the back of her truck.

Its coat of glossy black paint was peeling off, there were no cushions and a few of the wicker wraps on the back and arms had started to unravel. I gave it a good cleaning and fixed the broken pieces.  As for cushions, we snagged them for under forty dollars, sixty percent off, as the store was already putting out its back to school merchandise (this was in July).

At first I labeled this wonderful piece of furniture the Couch of Procrastination because as soon as I’d settle into it, time would disappear and I would find myself daydreaming while watching the bees dance with the flowers in the back yard.

Couch

 

But the word procrastination conjured up feeling of guilt; that in sitting in this wonderful space I was somehow being lazy.  I was wasting time when there were more important things that needed my attention; laundry, housecleaning, this month’s blog, hitting my daily word count on my current novel.

Then I remembered a quote from Socrates, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  Somehow I’d forgotten the value of being instead of constantly doing. Its only when you are really clear on what is important in your life, what fulfills you, can you lead a meaningful life.  And the only way to figure that out is to be.  Be with yourself, and your thoughts and your fears. When you dig deeper that is when the real richness of your life can come forward.

Now more than ever, we need to disconnect with the digital world and step out of the rush of modern society.  When you aren’t distracting yourself with tweets, Facebook updates and pinning images on Pinterest or rushing about to-and-from work or dashing out to do some retail therapy, something wondrous creeps in. Silence.

And once the silence has established itself it allows you to finally hear that still quiet voice of your authentic self.

There is a reason why even cloistered monks and nuns set time aside for silent prayer and meditation.  Only in quiet contemplation can one begin to know God, or Buddha or the intelligent consciousness of the Universe.  Without that sacred space of silence, we who live in the secular world can lose our centre and get way off track in our quick-fix, instant gratification society.  Our purpose for being gets lost under the barrage of advertising, consumerism and distraction.

If you build it he will come.

Or in my case if you arrange some second-hand furniture unexpected magic may happen.  And to ensure that this little corner of the patio nurtures the alchemy of the soul I’ve imposed a few rules; no iPods, portable DVD players or cellphones allowed and the laptop comes out only when I need it for writing.

What is allowed are books, journals, sketch books, cold drinks, fresh flowers, something delicious to eat, and a soft pillow in case the urge to have a nap overtakes me.

It really is an adult play space were daydreaming, reading, lounging, napping and reconnecting with family and friends are fostered.

Couch Collage

So I encourage you, while we still have a few weeks of lazy summer days left, to find an outdoor spot and install your own Chesterfield of Dreams. It doesn’t even have to be a sofa, perhaps a hammock is more your style or a chaise lounge.  And if you don’t have the furniture already and dumpster diving isn’t your thing even a blanket and some pillows arranged under the spreading arms of a tree would be just fine.  Whatever appeals to you.  If you set up your spot for reflection without delay, I promise you, you too will begin to experience the magic of being.

chickentext

Building My Home on Solid Ground

brokenhouseblogpxRecently, I watched best-selling author of The Signature Of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up presentation on TED talks called Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.

In this seven minutes talk, she provides examples of the pitfalls of pursuing a creative life and a sure-fire remedy to keep on track and maintain your equilibrium during the inevitable ups and downs.

She explains why both success and failure can wreak havoc on your life:

“For most of your life, you live out your existence here in the middle of the chain of human experience where everything is normal and reassuring and regular, but failure catapults you abruptly way out over here into the blinding darkness of disappointment. Success catapults you just as abruptly but just as far way out over here into the equally blinding glare of fame and recognition and praise.”

The solution to both of these extremes, Elizabeth states is:

“. . . you’ve got to find your way back home again as swiftly and smoothly as you can, and if you’re wondering what your home is, here’s a hint: Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself.”

“You’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it.  So addiction and infatuation don’t count because we all know that those are not safe places.”

I would add that along with addiction and unbalanced relationships another unsafe place to build your home is people pleasing. It’s just as destructive to the body and soul as any street drug out there.

I came to be the consummate people pleaser as a way for a child of five to keep myself safe and protected while growing up in an abusive home. It made sense as a little girl with no protection to adopt this strategy, it was the only tool at my disposal that would secure a small measure of safety.

Focusing on pleasing others meant I was constantly putting my energy into someone else’s dreams, needs and desires. In essence willingly giving away my power and energy in the hopes of securing love, security, safety.  This destruction of the soul is very seductive because I could convince myself that I was being noble, helpful, a good girl, a great partner whenever I would drop what was important to me to please others but at the core of it, this behaviour in an adult is a cop-out because I could always use it as an excuse to never fully invest in myself and thus never really have to fail or succeed.

So a strategy that kept me safe as a child morphed into the most unsafe place on which to build my own dreams of being a writer. I had placed my home, my desire and dreams on an ever shifting trash heap of pain and unloveableness.  What is more, I willing kept abandoning work on my own house of dreams (usually when I just started laying the foundation) to put all my time and effort into building someone else’s.

So I recently moved my home onto safer ground with a clearer understanding of how to set boundaries in a loving way and to refocus my attention on myself.

dreamcottage

This process of reclaiming who I am at times can be both exhilarating and frightening but I am determined now that I have found a safe place to begin building my home, I will not budge.  And when old habits crop up and I am tempted to abandon my writing to give energy to someone else in an unhealthy way I will do as my favourite author suggests:

“And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then you job is to fight your way back to that home, the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next.”

Thank you Elizabeth.

Keeping Time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy grandmother’s house was a place filled with the comforting smells of baking, of warm sunshine glowing through pleated curtains and the sound of her mantle clock chiming out the hours. Hours I spent in the company of a woman with a quiet voice, gentle hands and the patience to entertain three young girls.

My grandmother has since passed, her house and belongings sold off, but whenever my sister and I recall our visits with her we inevitably speak of the constant chiming of her mantle clock. The sound was the anthem of a time when we experienced small pools of loving calmness in an otherwise chaotic childhood.

A while back, my sister and I stopped in at a local antiques shop. I was nosing through stacks of old postcards and photographs, Cari was meandering through displays of china and kitchen items when we heard the opening bars of Westminster chimes. We looked at each other then, without a word, headed towards the sound of the steady tick-tock.

The clock wasn’t grand, vintage rather than antique. It was smaller than our grandmother’s clock, its wood veneer beginning to crack with age and neglect, but in our eyes she was beautiful. We stood momentarily transported back in time. We left the shop, postcards and teacups forgotten, a sense of longing and sadness following us outside.

Months later we were back at the antiques’ dealer. As we stepped inside, we noticed things had been rearranged. The small clock wasn’t sitting on the sideboard where we’d first seen her. We scanned the store and found a tambour mantle clock, one with the graceful camel back curve that most people think of as the typical mantle clock, but it wasn’t the one we’d fallen in love with. The one we had come for was Art Deco in its design and more compact and sturdy in appearance. We looked everywhere but she wasn’t there.

I decided to take one more look through the labyrinth of furniture. In the far back corner of the store I passed a glass-fronted bookcase when I happened to glance down at the bottom shelf and there she was.

Back home, we placed the clock on an old dresser and started the pendulum. The clock worked for only a few seconds then stopped dead. We started the pendulum again with the same results. After several unsuccessful tries a dreadful feeling that we had just bought a broken clock sunk in. The clock had been working the first time we had seen her but maybe something had happened to her since our last visit and that’s why she’d been hidden in the bottom of the bookcase.

Not one to give up easily, I booted up the computer and started to research mantle clocks. The more I read the more I realized these clocks were not just works of fine craftsmanship but more like living breathing things requiring love and attention to get them working and to keep them, keeping time.

The first requirement of any pendulum clock is to put the clock into beat. The clock should have an even tick-tock sound like the beat of a heart. Too fast and the clock won’t keep accurate time, too slow and it will stop completely after a few seconds. To put a clock into beat the clock must be absolutely level and sitting on a stable foundation because even an accidental bump can put it out of beat.

Pendulum clocks are only happy in the Now. Not even for a moment can you force it to go back in time; turning the hands backwards will break the gears. And it can’t be rushed into the future. If you spin the hands quickly without allowing it to chime each quarter hour you will throw off the chiming sequence and even risk damaging the escapement.

It took me a week to get the clock to run and chime the correct hour and quarter hours. During my learning curve, I couldn’t help notice the parallels between how to keep a pendulum clock running in perfect time and how my life could benefit from the same attention.

Mine is a 30 hour clock which means, for optimum working, it needs to be wound every day. Each evening as I attend to the needs of my clock, it draws me into reflecting how my day was. Did I go through the day feeling balanced or off kilter? Did I allow myself to become rundown or was I wound too tightly? Did I need to stop my headlong rush into the future or had I been dwelling too much in the past? Did I need to stop the pendulum, step out of the flow of time for a while and just take a break?

Nowadays, more and more people don’t even own watches much less mantle clocks, as they can check the time on their cell phones, without the hassle or the bother of maintaining an old fashioned timepiece.

In the near future will anyone care for these timepieces that require such constant attention or will they be relegated to the junk heap like so many gramophones and manual typewriters?

I hope not, for I believe that in our disposable convenience-obsessed society, we need to honour the craftsmanship, skill and artistry that these antique timepieces embody. And if nothing else, caring for one of these clocks forces you to contemplate the nature of time and the value of slowing down. And perhaps inspire you to tune into the beat of your own heart and the music that your soul wishes to chime out into the world.

The Grey Lady

Grey Lady

In the United Kingdom, the Grey Lady refers to female ghosts who have died because of the heartless actions of family members or violently by a love that has gone horribly wrong. She is the stuff of legends haunting castles and estates.

Since the 2008 economic downturn, paranormal investigators have discovered an increase in the reports of the Grey Lady phenomenon in North America. In Canada and the United States these Grey Ladies do not haunt the halls of ancient manor homes, like their British counterparts, but have been reported to haunt shopping malls, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and the occasional gas station. For the average person, her presence is detected by the slightest change in air pressure as she passes by or the sound of footsteps where no earthy presence is seen.

These phantoms have been known to move objects but unlike poltergeists instead of creating disarray they seem to be putting things back in their proper place. Shoppers have experienced this eerie occurrence when they have messed up displays in their hunt for bargains only to turn around and find the items put back neatly on the shelf. Also when customers stand at the till to purchase their items their money disappears and their purchases placed in a bag for their convenience as if by magic. Hotel guest have reported leaving their rooms in a mess only to return hours later to a tidy room, the bed made and the bathroom sparkling.

Who are these grey ladies, these ghosts that haunt these places? After several months of investigation using the latest technology, ghost hunters have discovered these Grey Ladies are not the disembodied spirits of women that have passed on but living breathing individuals who because they no longer matter to society have slowly become invisible. They are not young, beautiful, famous or rich. The majority of these Grey Ladies are of a certain age, most exist on limited means and are single or divorced.

Over time, being overlooked and dismissed by society, these women have come to accept that they are merely the unseen workforce there to serve the entitled, rude public in their frenzied grasping need to purchase and possess more stuff.

But all is not lost for these women of the in between. They can be saved from their immaterial existence by some simple intervention. The next time you are out shopping put down your cell phone, make eye contact with the woman behind the counter, who serves your meal or cleans your hotel room. Say a sincere hello, put back things you’ve picked up but no longer want to purchase, don’t bark out what you are looking for instead ask politely and most importantly say thank you.

If you do these simple things you can watch as these women who were once invisible take solid form again. Let them know that they are seen and appreciated. That they exist. That they matter.

Note: If you’d like to check out the story of a ghostly Grey Lady there is a famous American one said to haunt the Willard Library in Evansville Indiana. You can check out Louise Willard’s story here.