Sunday, December 21, 2008

Austin Christmas

In a few days, Annie and I will fly out of Chicago to Austin for a Texas Christmas. It will be my fourth trip to Austin and my third stay at the Austin Motel, one of the finer and more eccentric and soulful  establishments of that city.  I am sharing a few pictures from last year for you to get the general idea of the place,
but if you would like to know more, go to , where you can read the history of the place and understand the reason for the fabulous karma of the place. 
The first time I stayed there was with my then-fiance Dave, who agreed to book the room in deference to me and my love of all things tacky and unique; I am sure that a sensible Best Western would have been far more up his alley, but he put a smile on his face and commented on how the purple walls of our room were really quite pretty, after all, and watched a football game on the tiny little tv with rabbit ears.
Last year I returned solo. Each room at the Austin is an individual work of art, and when I checked in to my new digs I was not disappointed. It had sort of a "c" shaped floor plan with the bathroom in the middle. One end of the C showcased a great old dresser, the kind my grandmother had, and the other end held a double bed under a window.  The head of the bed was about 2" lower than the foot, which gave you the feeling of diving into dreamland.  In the mornings, the sun streamed in that little window and I still remember how that looked and felt with perfect clarity.  There was also a little couch and another tiny tv that didn't work. The bathroom was brightly tiled and the layers of calking around the fixtures were like little necklaces that just spiffed everything up. In short, perfection.
Austin is an outdoor place full of independent, liberal and eccentric folks. There is art everywhere, both the official and the unofficial kind, and street merchants peddling everything from shea butter ( a gorgeous black man with dreds down to his ass) to mocassins.  The food is great and they have three theaters where you can order some of it and watch a movie.  We hope to see Clint's new movie on Christmas day.

My friend Tina will be here at the house with little Bella and the Ozman, stoking the home fires for me.  She is still waiting for her husband Almamy to get his visa approved and fly here to Holland to be with her. They have been separated far too long and the story of their struggle to get him here is a painful one.  I had dinner with my new friend Vic, a handsome, brilliant and smooth-talking caramel-colored man with a voice like Lou Rawls, and he told me that he looked up the word "steerage" in the dictionary after hearing it used in the movie, "Titanic".  I remember the scene: a shot of those belowdecks who couldn't afford first-class passage.  It refers to those cheap accomodations for people who really don't count quite as much in this world; those who are marginalized by their skin color, their poverty, their powerlessness, their gender.  An awareness of how this pervasive attitude drives our world will help to change it.  I don't want to get preachy, here, but seeing clearly is coming to unfold for me as so very much more than getting that I am a lucky woman.
peace to you all, and love,

Sunday, November 30, 2008

we are saying thank you

I am thinking of that poem from Annie Lamott's book that is somewhere on this blog and thinking how appropriate it is for this weekend (and every other day of the year if your goal is peace) weekend was so glorious that I feel gluttonous in more than the food department (although I certainly did well there, too...) Jon and Annie were here, arriving on Thanksgiving day and staying til just a little while ago. I said goodbye to them in the JPs parking lot with snow coming down all around us and us in our hats and scarves. It was picturesque and it snowed just in time for JOn to get a little taste before heading back to Austin.  Tina and Kathy were here for TG dinner, and Mark and Benny came the next night for more food and some Monopoly (Benny won and I can tell you two things about that: first, he is a little capitalist, and second, we let him win, I swear).  Nothing like an 8 year old counting 100 dollar bills to crack you up. 
Saturday we spent in Ann ARbor with Seyth and Molly doing still more eating--Northside Grill for breakfast and my beloved SEVA for dinner. Annie got to see her painter friend, the other Seth (without the "y") and he inspired her to crank out some paintings on the theme of Facebook.
My friend Tina continues to hit walls trying to get her Almamy into the country...the visa is still not a done deal despite their jumping through every hoop presented.  She is struggling through each day without her new husband who is still in Conkary, Guinea.
Almost the end of the semester for Hope and finals are looming. I have enjoyed both classes but must admit it will be nice to be back to one job.
My friend Barb lost her dad, Vern Washabaugh, last Tuesday. She and her mom were right there for him around the clock and were giving him a bath and a shave when he left them.
Julie is driving back to DC with her fabulous basset hound, Bessie in tow--her first sojourn to the big city.  In other dog news, my friend Carolyn is missing her Lilly, her little black dog who she has had for years. She just seemed to disappear. There are signs up all over her neighborhood in Carmel, Indiana.  Mark brought Reggie for breakfast and we talked a little about how things will unfold when the time has come for him to go...loving dogs is so hard sometimes although of course worth every minute.
I have one quote and two pictures for you that may bring a little unity to this rambling blog. Really, I just felt like talking. 
Here is the quote: 

"Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.  It's the one and only thing you have to offer."--Barbara Kingsolver

The pics are of my Bella and Jon's Vanessa, Tarzan the cat and Poppy pup.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween hike to the beach

Halloween hike to the beach" pluginspage="">

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


good morning,
I found this image waiting for me in my inbox from Katie's parents, who I had the pleasure of talking to on conference night. Katie is a remarkable artist and one of many interesting small people I have the good fortune to be teacher to at Waukazoo Elementary.  I also think Katie is well on her way to being a great spiritual teacher!

A new issue of The Sun has me taking respite this morning in my chair with my small dog snoring on my lap, instead of heading for the gym.  I found this quote in an achingly beautiful essay called "Lost" by Elana Zamen:

The writer Andre Gide relates this experience fo a trip he took into the Belgian Congo:

    My party had been pushing ahead at a fast pace for  a number of days, an done morning when we were ready to set out, our native bearers, who carried the food and equipment, were found sitting about without any preparations made for starting the day.
Upon being questioned, they said, quite simply, that they had been traveling so fast in these last days that they had gotten ahead of their souls and were going to stay quietly in camp for the day in order for their souls to catch up with them.
So they came to a complete stop. 

I wonder how far removed I must be from these native bearers in my ability to feel my soul lagging behind me in my business, moving ahead with this sense of self-importance I so often feel.  How do we listen for those footsteps? How do we know when to stop and turn around?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

7 secrets

I have been tagged by organicsyes....
here are the rules.
1. link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog
2. share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3.  Tag 7 people at the end of  your post by leaving their names as well as links on their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
Remember chain letters? 
They were letters that we wrote and sent to a set number of people (was it seven? that seems right) and then each person sent to seven more, etc, etc, but also back to you, and the idea was that you were going to get a dollar or something from everyone and be rich. The other kind was that you had to do it or you were going to have to endure some awful fate if you didn't keep the chain going. (come to think of it, maybe I can attribute whatever bad luck I have ever had in my life to broken chain letters --or maybe broken mirrors. 
here are my seven facts (I am only doing this because it is a chance to talk about myself)

1.  I am a teacher and doer and lover of all things art.
2. I have a fabulously diverse, interesting, irreverant and delightful group of friends.
3. I have a tiny little dog named Bella.
4. I lost an eye earlier this year.
5.  I love books about maritime disasters and great adventures.
6.  My first name is Frances.
7.  I was named after a little girl with a terminal illness that my doctor dad and nurse mom took care of before they got married. (I love that one.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008


One of my favorite books is WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, by Maurice Sendack. It is a story about a little boy who goes to a place where there are monsters roaring at him, showing their claws, rolling their yellow eyes and doing their best to terrify him. Max, however, being a true six year old, is not intimidated by these theatrics, and tames them by "staring into their yellow eyes without blinking....and they were frightened, and called Max the wildest thing of all...." I have the great pleasure of reading this book to my first graders every year, and presiding over the creation of some pretty awesome puppets, like the one you see here. You can imagine the roaring and general wildness that ensues during this class!
This morning I reread another favorite story, from Pema Chodron, about facing the things that scare you. My monsters look like political figures, my retirement fund, my wrinkles, cancer....
maybe there is something to this taming of the monsters by looking them in the eye.
Here is the story:
"When I was about ten, my best friend started having nightmares: she'd be running through a huge dark building pursued by hideous monsters.  She'd get to a door, struggle to open it, and no sooner had she closed it behind her tan she would hear it opened b y rapidly approaching monsters.  Finally she would wake up screaming and crying for help. 
One day we were sitting in her kitchen, talking about her nightmares. When I asked her what the demons looked like she said she didn't know because she was always running away.  After I asked her that question, she began to wonder about the monsters.  She wondered if any of them looked like witches and if any of them had knives.  So on the next occurence of the nightmare, just as the demons began to pursue her, she stopped running and turned around.  It took tremendous courage, and her heart was pounding, but she put her back up against the wall and looked at them.  They all stopped right in front of her and began jumping up and down, but none of them came any closer. There were five in all, each looking somewhat like an animal. One of them was a grey bear, but instead of claws, it had long red fingernails.  One had four eyes.  Another had a wound on its cheek.  Once she looked closely, they appeared less like monsters and more like two-dimensional drawings in comic books.  Then slowly they began to fade. After that she woke up, and that was the end of her nightmares. "

In an interview with WTWTA author Maurice Sendack, he confided that the inspiration for his wild things came from childhood memories of his relatives coming for dinner. When I read the wild things' pleading with Max: "oh, please don't go! We'll eat you up, we love you so!" I am again delighted  by the similarities between the two.

Have a beautiful day, and look 'em right in the eye.

Friday, October 3, 2008

good news from Thich Nhat Hanh

Woke up this morning once again with this heaviness in my heart over the way of the world. It seems like it is painted in such dark hues these days. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk from Vietnam who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King. They worked together in another turbulent time-the 60's.  Offered here to you:
"Store consciousness, your thoughts, your speech, and your actions bring about the fruit of karma, which is comprised of yourself and your environment.  You and your environment are one and create your karma.  It is possible for us to assure a beautiful future by taking care of our thoughts, our speech, and our actions.  You have the power of changing yourself within, and you have the power of changing yourself by changing your environment.  Taking care of yourself means to take care of your body and to take care of your environment.   It is not true that the genes determine everything.  Through produc ing your thoughts, speech, and actions, you create your environment.  You always have the opportunity to arrange yourself and arrange your environment in such a way as to water the positive seeds in yourself.  That is the secret of happiness."
Good news for those of us who feel a little powerless in the face of all of this turmoil.
Sending wishes for joy and peace to all of you out there...
with love,
PS: Buttberry update: in a previous post I mentioned my attempts to emulate my friend Mark by developing a personal organization system for keeping me on track.  Yesterday, I not only dumped water all over my paper but proceeded to accidently rip it and then lose it somewhere between work and home. 
Lamination? a waterproof planner to put my buttberry in?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

from Pema Chodron

"Every day we could think about the aggression in the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Halifax, Taiwan, Beirut, Somalia, everywhere  All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever.  Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, " Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?"  Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, " Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?"

This reading resonated with me this morning. Everyone is talking about our dire situation on Wall Street, and those of us who grew up with parents who survived the Depression and World War II and Korea, who came into adulthood during the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon, can be reminded that it is not the world that needs to change, but our response to it.
Peace out, brothers and sisters. Each one of us contributes or contaminates...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More from Moore; On Busyness

"Simplifying the externals allows us to cultivate a rich inner and outer life.  A cluttered existence may keep us busy, but busyness doesn't mean that we are fully engaged in what we are doing.  Usually, just the opposite; we feel busy because we are neurotically active at things that don't matter much in the long run.  It does little good to be successful in a business that requires sixty hours of work a week, while the simple pleasures of home life are neglected. A complicated person can simplify life in that simplicity find a deep articulation of values.  Complicated lives often do the opposite: they show to what extent the person is lost in the busyness of the world."

As I put together my list for the week, my challenge will be to see the spaces between the items and try to flesh those out a little with some self-care, some rest, some time sitting on the cushion,  making art, dreaming, breathing.
Sunday night: how long have I been anxious on this, the starting line of another week? 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

from thomas moore-soul food

"Rainer Maria Rilke said, 'I live my life in widening rings.'  It may well be useful to note the expanding of the circles in which we live, but it is also important not to lose the sensation of cycles, which may be painful to anyone living in a culture dedicated to the extending line.  Maybe in life we never really develop, but only expand the rotations that give us our firm identity.  Maybe we should expect always to get into familiar trouble and to repeat both the glorious and the defeating themes that are imbedded in our soul."
Being a teacher enhances my sense of the cyclical nature of life: the beginning of the school year is marked by tremendous excitement and anticipation.  It is all new, and the possibilities are tantalizing.  This year could, after all, be the best year ever. At the same time, I embrace the familiar-writing children's names on my class lists and smiling as I remember their faces, pulling out the clay tools, sharpening the pencils, writing on the board, reading for the millionth time Where The Wild Things Are and holding a group of first graders in the palm of my hand....the old, beloved things come back in yet another new way.  And, of course, my old challenges of staying present with my heart, being mindful and resisting the tsunami of the tasks of the day, are familiar refrains.  
The changing of the seasons seems to magnify this awareness of the cycles and circles of my life. I look at last year's pictures of the colors of the leaves and then, walking up the familiar path to the beach the other day, I notice that the bushes are already turning red. Out of the whole row, only one so far-the leader, I think. I know children like that.
sending peace your way. 
let's stay soft in the middle of it all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday morning

I have a friend who is so organized and on top of things that I am not only impressed but also a little envious. As I wade through the many tasks involved in launching the Queen Mary of a new school year I notice that my old friends, aversion and distraction, want to come out and play, and staying with the developing of lesson plans, the tedium of typing up art orders and the challenge of bulletin boards is difficult, to say the least. I love the opportunity, with time off, to let the day unfold, lighting on this interesting thing or that like a butterfly, unencumbered by To Do lists. It is the attitude of play, and the fertile ground of creativity.   Yet Mark seems to thrive on listing and completing tasks, and he accomplishes a great deal on any given day.  He is the person for whom this quote was invented: "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." 
He calls his system his "Buttberry", and he has used it for as long as I have known him. It is a daily printout of his schedule and list, organized by day in a table, and he folds it up and puts it in his pants pocket, ready to whip out for reference throughout the day (when he puts it in his shirt pocket it becomes a "chestberry").  I am working on my own version of this nifty system, though the corrections and editing of this printed document are what keep me delighted; the rebel in me loves to make changes and cross things out. I guess the important thing is that I am somehow paying the mortgage, calling the plumber and remembering that dentist appointment.
Another friend, a victim of our hideous economy, has lost her home through foreclosure and now has moved to a much smaller place, an apartment in Zeeland, and is staring at boxes, the content of which is so precious to her, and wondering where in the world to put it all. She can't find anything, feels cast adrift and a stranger in her own digs. She is trying to piece it all back together after this storm that has totalled her home base.  Where Mark's life is characterized by order, my other friend faces the complete lack of it.  
Another visit to Mike the occularist last Friday to remedy a slight "toeing-in" of my prosthesis, giving me a vaguely goofy gaze.  I wound up wading into unfamiliar waters with him and I am still pondering all of that. Although I generally welcome the unusual and surprising encounter with others, I was unprepared for this one. One's attractions are so individual and irrational sometimes. 
Dear friends, I hope that all of you are moving into this new season with passion, as the temperatures cool down and the uniform green gives way to the subtle unfolding of the riot of color that always signals that we are once again approaching the month of my birth. 
Peace Out, 

Saturday, September 13, 2008


The drizzle couldn't dampen my spirits as I headed downtown this morning. The farmer's market was humming despite the rain, with clusters of bright umbrellas moving up and down the walkway. I love the Windmill Restaurant and their delicious veggie omelets and divine homemade wheat toast. If you have never visited the Windmill, you must go and eat there. Although I preferred their old orange and maroon booths to the new, more muted tones, it is a warm and friendly place and usually bustling with locals and tourists alike. Downtown would not be the same without it. Another favorite place is The Bridge, staffed by volunteers and providing a place for artists from all over the world to sell their wares and for us to find beautiful, unique and affordable treasures. They sell fair trade coffee and other goods, beautiful handmade sweaters, lovely ceramics and wood carvings, fabulously ethnic jewelry and bags galore ( I love that word: galore.) I fall in love with things there, such as a tiny teapot from Vietnam, carved from soapstone, of an ox with a tiny man on the back with a book in his hand. One of a kind things. The Bridge's business is booming and this means good karma for Holland.
Another wonderful place is Reader's World, a place I have been frequenting for 38 years. When I was in college there was a great little counter in the back where you could get coffee. 
I also got to see Karla today, and her good news is that she will be renting the back part of Treehouse books during Nov and Dec, so all of you Karla fans can buy her nifty stuff once again, just in time for Christmas. Her old shop is now occupied by Favorite Things, a great consignment shop with fab vintage stuff.
Recently I got some new glasses, the first since my my surgery.  I walked into Globe Vision and was greeted by Bob Schultze, a lovely man who is not only warm, friendly and fun but also possessing a great eye.  He helped me to find the fabulous frames you see in the picture and I just love them. This is a great place to go, full of not only beautiful frames, but art, music and the occasional offbeat customer who engages you in a rousing discussion of Buddhism and physics and then sends you a poem.... Michael, I promise to write you back someday. I have never recieved anything quite like that communication and I loved it.
Mike made some more adjustments on my eye, which was toeing in a little and making me look ever so slightly feeble...apparently as the socket heals it also changes in shape sometimes and this makes the prosthetic shift around. Mike told me that they are working on robotic eyes now...imagine.  
more later....
love and peace and Obama to you.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

back to the blog

Dear All,
The month of August flew by without a word written on this blog or in my journal. As I flipped the calendar page, I turned my attention to my work as an art teacher, as I do every August. The black-eyed susans are my cue that fall is coming and there are things to be done.
Summer Arts Camp was a glorious experience, largely due, of course, to those involved, particularly my gifted and dedicated Hope students, Allison Fisher and Cassie Thomas, both seniors preparing for a career in education. Allison had the energy to rally students to explore theater games, body percussion, beat-boxing and dance, while Cassie planned and led wonderful art projects using recycleable materials and endless patience and resourcefulness. Our campers were delightful kids, as all kids are, and it was just a great time. Thanks to Lorma, Andrew, Tenina, Judith, Derek and Marilu, the awesome Arts Council staff, for their smiles, help, brainstorming, coffee, access to the treasure trove of stuff in the basement, and patience as campers swarmed upstairs and down.
Then, of course, the Olympics, the Democratic Convention, and the first day of school....this makes 50 of them for me (first days, not Democratic Conventions) , and I still have trouble sleeping the night before. I am so happy to be with my colleagues and students again.
The thing that has me heavy-hearted today is the politics. I am horrified to hear some of what is out there right now. I wonder if there will ever be peace in our world with such mean-spiritness being applauded.
Anyway, it feels good to be writing this...more later....
love and peace to all of you out there...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Annie at my favorite restaurant, The Garden Restaurant at the Art Institute of Chicago. Beautiful, elegant, and wonderful food. As my mother took me there as a child, so I am able to continue the tradition and bring my lovely Anna.
no shortage of beautific Buddhas at the Art Institute
We figured out that Des Plaines stands for "the planes!!!!!". They are the state bird of Illinois,

Sunday, July 27, 2008

a poem for you: Now I become myself.

Now I become myself.  It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there.

Now I stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density...

My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love,
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I , the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

-by Mary Sarton

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jack Wiler Discusses Monster Rats

Another friend on You Tube--Jack alerted us on his blog that he was interviewed for a show on the History Channel on Monster Rats in his capacity as a NY Exterminator. Check it out if you aren't the squeamish type. To hear some of these guys talk, you could feed a family on one of these critters.....

Barak visits Ami's School

lorenzo has a full-ride scholarship to the college of his choice this fall....against some pretty significant odds.
Barak listened to individual reports by students and gave them feedback.
Barak with students at Mapleton School

Ami meets Barak Obama
Barak hanging out with students

Denver Venture School:

The first time I saw Ami, she was sitting quietly (one might say, contemplatively, now that I know her better!) in the teacher's lounge at Lakeshore Elementary School.  She was a student teacher then, and during our first conversation I learned that she was already choosing among several job offers. That is the way it has been for Ami ever since; you see, she is a powerful combination of ambitious career woman, social activist and Buddha Mama (with a little Mary Poppins thrown in, Indian style). Ami taught at Lakeshore for a couple of years and then moved to Denver, sensing the need for a more diverse, urban community. She continued teaching the elementary level, then became a teacher coach, and then an assistant principal. She told me a story about a terrible day when she found herself in the middle of a huge gang fight, with police cars and ambulances and injured kids. Ami had never seen a fight before, and it must have been terrible for her, but it also, like everything in life, brought her farther along, and made her stronger. Ami has mentored students who no one thought would amount to anything, and they are amounting to a great deal with her support and love.  This is why I know that her new high school in Denver is going to be a great success. I got to visit her school, freshly painted by 60 volunteers one weekend, while in Denver. We were with our friend Russ, who teaches in a very tony district in Connecticutt, and he was struck by the humble circumstances from which her new school is being born. This is a free charter school and the focus is on entrepreneurship.  I encourage you to check out the Denver Venture School link (I put it on the subject line of this post)  and see for yourself. The video, in which students are interviewed, is inspiring. Best wishes to my Ami as she begins this new chapter. I am betting on this school being amazing with her at the helm.
Oh, I must tell you, too, that Barak Obama visited her old school in June, and she was able to meet him and watch him in action with students. He spent the entire day there, folks. She said of him: "he is the real deal." 
With people like Ami and Barak out there, I know we can do anything.

trains, planes, and automobiles (oh, and shuttles, footpaths and a little levitating)

Hello, All,
As I write this, Bella is trying to convince me to play with her by waving her toy Skunkie in my face. This toy was a gift from her Aunt Barb, who spoiled her way past imagining when I was gone, right down to getting her icecream from Capt Sundae's on her last night at the Malis's.  Bella no doubt experienced a level of nurturing, care and joy equal to mine on our vacations. Thanks, Barb and Joe and Ollie and Leo, for taking my little knucklehead into your home and hearts and treating her like one of your own. When I die, I want to come back as one of Barb's pets.

Shambhala didn't disappoint. It was as challenging an endeavor as I have ever taken on-physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually--came out of it feeling stronger, lifted up, I hope a little wiser. I met some incredible women, like Tory, a free-lance correspondent who has traveled a great deal, and continued this habit at Shambhala by walking the perimeter's 6 mile path before any of us got to the breakfast tent one morning. Full of humor, heart and wisdom, her stories of her adventures kept us captivated.

Also Joan, a woman who took me for a walk one morning when my tears were blinding me and showed me a broken tree that had such life and new growth that it inspired her each time she looked at it. This tree, she said, was a metaphor for her life. Joan's smile was serene and radiant and I knew she meant it when she said her life is beautiful now.

I could go on and on--there were 15 of us all together, and as always happens in these kinds of situations, my ignorance and fear at the beginning told me how different (unique?) I was, and five days later, we were all the same, all the same. 

Friday, July 4, 2008

on the road to shambhala

I think that song was by 3 dog night....and speaking of golden oldies, my beloved classmates, the Gateway Gators, are having their 38th class reunion tomorrow. I will be raising a glass with them in spirit (nonalcoholic, of course) and wishing I could be there. I send my best to all of you. My friend Jack is writing about that place and that time on his blog and his funny and sweet reminisces are such a joy. there were lots of interesting people in the class of '70, that's for sure.

Anyway, I really am on the road tomorrow, back to Shambhala Mountain Center, 600 acres north of Ft Collins, CO, a Buddhist retreat I first visited last November. The interesting building in the picture is the Stupa, which contains an 18 foot high golden Buddha which is a sight to see.  This time, it is for a women's yoga retreat, and I will have the great joy of twisting myself into hideous contortions and meditating with a roomful like-minded females.  I will also be able to spend some decent time with my friend Ami Desai, with whom I will be making a road trip to Taos and hanging out with at her place in Denver. She's the one with the beautiful teahouse in her back yard (see pics of said yard and Amos engrossed in a book)  and Buddhas everywhere. I have known Amy for fifteen years and I treasure our friendship. So, the estrogen and patchouli oil will be flowing and I have packed not only my incense and peppermints, but some Aleve, too, because I just saw the daily schedule and it's Hippie Girl bootcamp for me!

Wishing you all a beautiful Independence Day and hoping that you are in the ranks of the free.

Friday, June 20, 2008

lives not ordinary

I have always been drawn to eccentric and interesting people. When I was a child, there were many of them who came into our lives and we were encouraged to seek out and value these encounters. One of my favorites was Billy McWayne.  Billy was a heroin addict who met my dad in the emergency room one night. He was a handsome, soft-spoken Southern  man in his thirties with impeccable manners, articulate and polite. He stayed with us for awhile, to the consternation of community members who knew his history and doubted my parents' judgement in allowing a dope fiend around their children.  He certainly was about the farthest thing from a fiend that I ever had met, and we were sad when he left.  Billy never did stay clean and wound up on a chain gang somewhere, but for awhile, he was part of my life, and my world got bigger as a result of knowing him. Another favorite was Jimmy Daggitt. He also had a rich dad and a substance abuse problem-his was booze. He had a cute little house by the beach that was loaded with antiques, including a cool old ladderback chair which he fitted over his toilet, hinging the seat. The towel bar was a huge old sword in a sheath. There was baby grand and I swear it was painted gold. He had a jeep, and he always kept Koolaid in the fridge for us kids. He had wavy hair and a big nose and I thought he was so handsome. Jimmy eventually went to law school and practiced in DC, where he overdosed on some combination of drugs and alcohol and was found, legs twisted under him, unconcious several days later; it is a miracle that he survived. He suffered physical and cognitive damage and walked with a cane and an even more eccentric point of view from then on. Very gay and sort of Truman Capotesque, he has faded from my life, but I did get to see him at my brother's wedding, where we shared memories and his stash of Xanax. 
I am blessed with some pretty colorful friends now, people who have never shied away from putting themselves out there, stepping into life with both feet and making some noise. I am learning every day from them to have the courage to be who I really am.  One of them seems to be running at a higher voltage than usual, leading her loved ones to wonder if a little lithium might be in order. Being less than practical and very artistic, she takes risks, makes dramatic moves, lives outside the box and walks on edges that would make many of us a little woozy.   And my response, to my dismay, is only too often one of thinly veiled disapproval and an urge to "help" and advise. As if. 
It is a spiritual axiom that those things that hook and irritate us about others are the very things that we reject in ourselves.  Maybe this is why cultivating compassion and understanding in relationships is so hard; we have to do it for ourselves first, and that critical voice that lives in our heads gets loudest when directed inward.
So, a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay for my impractical, dramatic, beautiful, wild friends (I include myself among them):

My candle burns at both ends
it will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.

If you are reading this, dahling, you know who you are. 
sleep well, if sleeping is on the agenda tonight.
I loved your assortment of weapons last night:)

Monday, June 16, 2008


Friday night was the Relay for Life event at the WOHS track. Cancer survivors were invited to walk a lap together, wearing our colorful teeshirts inscribed witht he words, "Remember", "Celebrate", and "Fight Back" on the front, and "SURVIVOR" on the back.  My friend Kathy and I found the sign-up tent and I got my shirt, then looked around and took in the scene- a sea of shirts like mine, survivors everywhere: a toddler, an elderly man in a wheel chair, a beautiful woman with just the tiniest bit of hair..
Many of you know that my dad is a retired Oncologist as well as a cancer survivor himself, and he came to my heart as I walked with Kathy. I worked for him over summer college breaks and got to witness him with patients. One woman I remember had breast cancer-she looked like someone's second grade teacher. A year later she came back on crutches-it had gone to her hips, and she had consulted a faith healer before finally returning for more radiation. Who could blame the woman for wanting to avoid that. Many other stories live in my mind from the dinner table, my father telling us about these people. Memoirs around the house, gifts from grateful patients. My dad's weary eyes as he told the stories.
I talked to him on Father's Day. I told him  that I wondered if I deserved to walk that lap with the likes of Emma, my friend Barb's mother in law, who endured chemo and surgery three years ago when diagnosed with breast cancer.  The neat and tidy ennucleation of one eye seems to pale in comparison.  I don't know that i "fought" cancer. I basically had it removed.  
My dad called cancer " a perverse lottery".  You just get it, and it doesn't really give a damn who you are.  
Our West Ottawa team, headed up by the amazing teacher, musician and dad, Jeff Gaul, raised over 14K. Maybe this is how I fight back-by following his example, doing something good that allows me to forget about my damned self for a little while.
Thanks to all who do that each day so that I can walk with Emma and enjoy another sunset.

Benny and the Tiger Game

My ex Mark has an eight year old named Benny. When he was born,on the day after Annie's high school graduation, the kids and I were still reeling from the divorce and splitting up of the old family, and the thought of this new life somehow fitting in to our old ones was a hard one, to say the least. Jon and Annie would now have a half-brother, and who the hell knew what he would be to me? I could see what a child of Mark's with no Claudia involved might look like, maybe, but really, who would this little person be?
Mark introduced me to Benny when he was a baby, and he as an angelic little creature.  Over the years, I have gotten to know him better.  After my surgery, Benny and Mark came over, and he brought me a book about the Detroit Tigers, inscribed carefully in beautiful first grade printing: : "Dear Mrs. Art, I know you like the Tigers, so I got this book for you. Love, Benny." We decided then and there that we would go to a Tigers game this summer, and we did just that yesterday, on Father's Day, 3 days after Benny turned 8. 
He was in full Tiger regalia, sporting a cool two-toned Tiger hat and a Pudge Rodriguez jersey. He kept saying, "I can't believe I am in Detroit!" When you are eight, Detroit is still a cool place, and seeing it through his eyes, I had to agree. An old church became a castle through Benny's eyes, and Ford Field looked a whole lot bigger. And then, of course, there it was-Comerica Park, with huge lions poised for attack and a giant screen proclaiming, "HOme of the Tigers! " Enough to make anyone's heart pick up a little, I think.
Even the rain delay was fun.  We ate, we cheered, we watched some great baseball (back-to-back homers by Guillen and Thames! The Dodgers' rally in the ninth!) and drove home playing the alphabet game and a few that Benny made up as well. I looked over at Mark, navigating through the crowds, and remembered so many car trips with the kids in the back, playing those same games and enjoying a beautiful day. We held hands for awhile, and it felt just fine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Be Still

from Thomas Merton:

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you?

These iris and many more belong to my neighbor on Lakeshore Drive. They are a highlight of my walks with Bella. I have three blooming myself, along with my lilac bush, which is groaning under the weight of all the blossoms. They are the color of pale lavender silk.
Suddenly the air is friendly and caressing, the daylight seems to last forever and the color is everywhere. In Michigan, spring is a miracle!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

after the storm

Good morning, friends,
If you live nearby you weathered an incredible storm last night-awesome in its power. Phone lines are buzzing this morning with stories from benign to tragic of its consequences. The sheer volume of water coming down from the sky was hard to wrap your mind around. And, it raged well into the night.
The storm left its mark in many ways on the beach.  The waterline showed evidence that the waves traveled farther than halfway up Riley beach, and dragged sand to the shoreline, forming a little dune. Everywhere, the rushing water carved rivulets into the sand, re-enacting the making of the Grand Canyon on a small scale and creating crevices  delicate and precarious.  Fractal patterns were everywhere along the sand. Debris had been lifted, carried and dropped along my path, most organic but also, the remnants of beachgoers mixed in-a stray sandal, plastic components of something or other, charred wood from campfires.  
The wind was refreshing and clean. The sky as peaceful as it was turbulent the night before. 
The beach once again has been made new, baptized by the rain and the magificent dance, the raging minuet of the water, in and out, to and fro.
I walked in tandem with the footsteps of a child for awhile and wished that I could see around me with his eyes, free of thought and preoccupations. As happens so often, I thought of all of the people I have loved who have walked this beach with me, both in person and in spirit. Again I saw the two certainties of life-that it will change, and that it is eternal.

I have a good friend who is having a storm of her own this weekend. This morning's call sounded like it is dying down and the sun is peeking through. 

words for today:

Friday, June 6, 2008

school's out

School is out as of noon today and me without a camera! I wish I could have shared some images with you of my fifth graders at their Aloha breakfast-they were just beaming with joy and promise and although I will miss them all I am happy to send them forward from their Waukazoo nest to the bigger world of middle school. We teachers waved good bye from the hill and I brought home another rose bush from the Marsman family--this one is coral pink, a fitting color to represent their youngest and most colorful child, Kristin.  Three other Marsman bushes grace my garden and the blooms are almost as beautiful as the girls (Kaitlin, Kelly and Kara).  
One of my favorite things is finding a piece of artwork like the one above on my desk.  Perhaps this helps to explain my relentless optimism-kids having a way of making your world much brighter. I have a friend who is retiring next year, and when I asked her why, she said, "you know, Claude, being an accountant for such-and-such company isn't quite as rewarding as teaching art to children." thanks for the slap upside the head, Jean...:)
My heart has been so full today that I am now sitting here listening to the wind blow and feeling the peace that has alluded me all week. The transition was aided by a call from my darling Vanessa, who had her last day yesterday. Only teachers know how it feels. 

I have a poem for you from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that speaks to this idea of stillness after such busyness:

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the
let's not speak in any language
let's stop for a sceond,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together in a sudden strangeness...

sending peace vibes out and feeling them coming back...

another passage

I sit here in my wonderful old leather chair with Bella sleeping soundly on my lap (just the tiniest sound of a snore) and the intoxicating breeze blowing the curtains as it enters the house and whispers, "summer! summer!" The birdsong, the smells. The cup of coffee in my favorite mug.  All of this and the promise of some open time ahead. Longer mornings, the beach, a nap on the couch in the middle of the day. It seems impossible to be this blessed!
Yesterday I taught yoga and papermaking to my kids. Today I say goodbye to my fifth graders at their Aloha breakfast. The teachers at Waukazoo have a fine tradition: we stand on the hill by the driveway and wave goodbye to our kids as they leave in their busses and cars. It is like a parade. There is an exquisite feeling of joy and sadness-and love. We all know that we will be together again.
A quote for you from LEGACY OF THE HEART, by Wayne Muller: 

"As we explore the practices of faith, sraddha, and equanimity, one thing becomes clear: Genuine faith is born of the ability to trust in what is most fundamentally true within ourselves.  Circumstances will change, and all manner of things pleasant and unpleasant will arise and fall away; sometimes our lives will be touched with joy, and at other times we will be given tremendous pain and sorrow.  Many times we will be afraid.  But the object of faith is not to eliminate difficult circumstances, nor is faith about trusting in a God who will rescue us from hurt, or who--if only we believe strongly enough--will make everything better.  The real question of faith is when pain and loss inevitably come our way, do we withdraw in fear that we will be destroyed, or do we deepen our trust in our innate capacity to endure them? Can we find a strong and courageous heart, a place of clarity and wholeness within ourselves in which we can place our ultimate trust, gently allowing both the fear and the pain to simply move through us?
Faith is a centering response.  The search for faith is a search for our true nature, for the spirit within, the divine strength that lives in our deepest heart...we begin to see that true safety is not the absence of danger but rather the presence of something else-the presence of a sense of faith, born in the heart and sustained by a spirit of serenity, trust, and courage. "

peace to you, friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

annie's home!

 What a morning for a walk on the beach.  Glorious. So good to have Annie here. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

join me for Relay For Life!!

Relay for Life Holland will be held on June 13th and 14th at West Ottawa High School. I will be new to this adventure this year but have heard such great things about his event that I can hardly wait to get there! I have joined the West Ottawa team and am inviting you out there to join us.
Basically, everyone has to raise $100, and we take turns walking thwe track for 24 hours to earn our pledges. Fun, food and fellowship will abound!
If you are interested please follow these simple steps:

Go to the website

Click on Join a Team and follow the steps.

Then, got to the Particpant Center and click on the Personal Page Icon and customize your page. Add a photo and tell others the reason why you Relay. It seems like we all know someone who has battled cancer--let's get their names and pics out there, too.

Or, ask them to walk the Survivor's Lap, which will be at 6pm on the 13th. I will be walking with friends and colleagues who are cancer survivors and we would love to have more join us. Contact me if you have questions: 616-786-1894.

Thanks, All.

Monday, May 26, 2008

symbols of peace and harmony for you

the Mighty MO

On Saturday my friend Kathy took me to the cemetary where her dad, Ralph Martinus, is buried, and I had the pleasure of meeting him, or at least his spirit. I have heard a lot about him from Kathy and he sounds as though he was quite a guy.  He was in the Navy.  My dad Tom was also in the Navy, as was my Uncle Jack and my Uncle Larry.  My dad was on the Battleship Missouri, also known as the Mighty Mo. He has a great portrait of her at the house, and when I grew up, I loved looking at it. My dad looked handsome in his sailor blues and all three boys had their military portraits hanging in my grandparents' house. I often wonder if his love of maritime stories (and mine, for that matter) comes from the time he served as a young officer on that huge ship.  

It has been a good weekend, with the weather finally feeling like spring and the warm sun shining. I built a little wall around my garden and I have my friends to thank as usual--Carolyn provided the little paver bricks, Bobbi helped me haul them and Kathy helped to dig up the dirt and put them in.  A friendship wall. It warms me to look at it.

Also bookended my Sunday with Mark and Reggie...breakfast at I-Hop and dinner at my house.  Mark made some monster grilled asparagus and we watched an inspiring documentary about a teacher. 

In between, I got out on the golf course with the girls and am thrilled to tell you that there didn't seem to be much difference for me between golf with two eyes and golf with one. Honestly, I was hoping I'd be able to keep my eye on the ball better, but alas, no such luck. Not one bit better. But oh, it was such fun!


I was mezmerised by this video that I found while browsing blogs tonight so here it is for your amusement. how weird! and it just keeps going, on and on and on. no "play" button. just an endless loop. yikes.  

Sunday, May 25, 2008

one year ago..

A year ago tomorrow was my wedding day. Had we not called it off after our disasterous spring break in San Antonio (scene of the Alamo-and we stayed at a hotel that used to be the jail--that pretty much paints the picture), I would be out buying an anniversary card for Dave. Or not. Sometimes I think that is overly optimistic. 
I met Dave on eharmony and we were together for a little over two years. We had hideous fights in all the best places: Minneapolis, Sante Fe, Denver, Tuscon, Milwaukee, chicago.....even the wilds of the UP. We had sleepless nights at all  the best hotels.  We bought lots of cards for each other which described our endless love for each other, and we slammed doors and screamed into telephones and I cried more tears than I thought you could produce.  We saw therapists, read spiritual guides and psychological profiles.  We even consulted the Enneagram, trying to determine how a fearful 6 like him and a bossy 8 like me could find lasting happiness.  We wrote beautiful, spiritual vows, hired a hip minister, rented the coolest house on the beach and hired the caterer. I had a beautiful wedding dress waiting in the closet.
Peachy flowing bridesmaid's dresses for Annie and Sarah.  Nifty pinstripes from Banana Republic for the boys.  Annie worked on artistic invitations.
After it all went to hell, we decided that we would somehow stay together and see what happened. It was kind of like the movie Frankenstein--the one with De Niro,  when Dr. Frankenstein takes his dead fiance and attaches her beautiful dead head to another body and re-cooks her and then they have that gruesome dance scene when he is smiling frantically (he is utterly mad at this point, of course and saying to her, "remember? remember???" 
Anyway, we spent the wedding weekend at the beach house. What an appetite for pain we had.
By the way, for the exact hour that the ceremony was to take place, there was a torrential downpour. We sat and watched it and I cried and cried. Dave politely got after me for leaving my kleenexes all over the place.  We had an unwedding night.
The next morning, a young deer appeared on the edge of the water. He had gotten separated from his mother and appeared to either be exhausted or injured. We couldn't get too close to him, and didn't know what to do, so Dave called the DNR and then the cops but no one was interested in a stray deer on the beach.  People walking the beach stopped to take pictures.  An hour went by.  Finally, in a burst of speed, he began to swim, moving farther and farther from the shore.  We watched him until he was out of sight. 
That evening, another beach walker told us that they had seen a dead deer on the beach up the shoreline a ways. I don't know if it was him.

Dave and I dated all summer and had an almost anticlimactic breakup in October. I will remember those months as an uneasy truce. We took a couple of trips and all went well, and then, the cracks began to explosion on our anniversary weekend in Saugutuck, and then the final bullet to the head prior to my birthday trip to Traverse City.  
To paraphrase Tom Waits, the music had stopped long ago, but we had kept trying to dance. That gruesome, sleeping, trancelike dance of denial, smiles plastered to our faces.

After the breakup, I went to DC, to Shambhala in Colorado, and Austin....I lost Miles and got Bella, got cancer and lost an eye, started this blog, reconciled with people who I thought I had lost, and learned a lot about myself, love, friends, happiness, art, and breathing.

Happy Memorial Day to all of you out there in cyberspace. May your troubles be small and may you feel the sun on your faces today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


My dear ex, Mark Hagar, has once again coordinated the Ride of Silence and I am giving him a shout out here for his hours and hours of hard work and devotion to this cause.  For those of you who don't know about it, this ride is what it sounds like- a silent ride which is in honor of bicyclists who have been killed while riding. My son Jon and his partner Vanessa rode in Austin.
There are 285 rides that all happen at the same time all over the world and it is growing every year. For more information check out their website at

Here's a clip from Mark's interview with WZZM yesterday:

"People are taking their bikes out of the garage and bringing them into the bike shops to get them maintained because they're going to start communicating because they can't afford gas prices.  With more and more cyclists out there we need to make motorists and the public aware to please be careful because we are out there.  You need to share the road with us."

By the way, Vanessa (who is even cuter from the front) just bought a white Vespa to zoom around Austin in.  Jon dubbed it "The Vanespa."
Thanks to Mark for helping make our roads safer for cyclists.