Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Haikus in NYC - Poetry for the Season!

Each season I write haikus, a practice I began when we lived in Russia. I would sift through my many photos, select five that particularly "spoke" to me, put words to pictures, in 5-7-5 syllabled lines, and post them on my Arkansas/Russian Reflections blog. (Check archive for haikus). Nature was always my theme, a familiar companion, in a country that took time to get to know. 

When we moved to New York City, I followed a similar pattern. Although back in my home country, I often felt like a visitor, a tourist rather than a citizen. I needed something to ground me. Something that was the same in Moscow, New York City, Cairo, Singapore, Juneau or Greenbrier, Arkansas.

Path to walk
Space to breathe

My spring, summer and fall haikus reflect where my eye wandered, where my soul gravitated for comfort and connection.  

 I continue this winter, with Nature linking me to my surroundings; Her threads often leading me beyond the obvious. 

May these images and words provide a thread or two for you. . . wherever that might lead.
Happy Holidays!  

Rockefeller Center
                                                              Rockefeller tree
jeweled, admired, crowned a Star
led a quiet life

Statue of George Washington
Federal Hall
 Ever so quietly
snowflakes trigger mem'ries of
soldiers without shoes

View of New York Harbor from our window
Oh, sing to the dawn 
promises of liberty
for tired, poor, for all

Farmer's Market, Union Square
one among many
no matter how welcome, still,
feeling out of place

intersection Broadway and Morris (Lower Manhattan)
potted wonderland
between frantic stop and go
balance is the key

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Mindful Art of Thich Nhat Hanh - in Manhattan

I learned about Thich Nhat Hanh from our son, Jason, who spent a week at the Zen master's Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Centre in France. Otherwise, I wonder whether my life and that of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk would have ever crossed paths . Perhaps I would have stumbled across an inspiring quote, discovered one of his books in the spirituality section of Barnes and Noble.

Perhaps not.

And what a loss that would have been.

When I saw the announcement in "Time Out New York" that Thich Nhat Hanh's art was exhibited at Deepak Chopra's HomeBase at ABC Carpet and Home, my eyes would have normally kept skimming. But because I had a connection, I stopped, read, cut out the brief paragraph, and stuck it on the refrigerator door.

Then I went out of town.

Six weeks later the small piece of paper was still hanging around, reminding me each time I reached for  milk or eggs, that the exhibit was there, waiting, soon to be filed under "missed opportunities."

Opportunity Requires Effort 
could have appeared on the wall alongside Thich Nhat Hanh's mindfulness meditations. Or maybe it does in a broad interpretation of. . .

So I bundled in my warmest, took the PATH train to World Trade Center, walked 3 blocks to the 5 train, got off at14th and Union, walked 3 or 4 blocks, entered ABC Carpet and Home among a swarm of holiday shoppers and a line-out-the door of parents and children awaiting a glimpse of Santa.  Not the meditative mood I was expecting.

"Up the steps, on the mezzanine," the door greeter pointed, when I asked about the Thich Nhat Hanh exhibit. I edged my way past the glitz and baubles to a wide staircase in the back, topped by a picture of the Buddhist monk, his pose an invitation to enter, quieten.

The large room had a warehouse feel about it, exposed pipes and brick.  Simple. Open. Light. Chanting softly filled in the empty spaces with sound.  I entered and was at once enveloped in solitude, the only person in the space. I consciously breathed for the first time since leaving home.


I walked to each piece of calligraphic art, stood, read.
Each message beyond a meditation. 
Almost too much to absorb.
Each life affirming.
Life changing.

Then I came to the one that reminded me of my connection, Jason to Thich Nhat Hanh to me.
The words, 
the book
 Jason gave me after his week at Plum Village.

      In gratitude, I felt that I had come 
full circle.

(The exhibit ends December 31.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On the Road - Labyrinth Visits #35, 36, 37!

(For background about my labyrinth journey, please click on the "Labyrinth Journey" label, directly under the blog's picture.)  

Stretch of road near Clinton, Missouri
I've decided that I like, really like road trips. Pile everything I need in the car and go.  No airport security lines, baggage fees, extra legroom fees, "unexpected" turbulence that causes my blood pressure  and prayer life to soar.
And Oh the Sights You'll See! to paraphrase Dr. Seuss' wisdom.
Luggage in the trunk, snacks, water bottle, GPS in the console, audio book CDs neatly arranged in the front passenger seat - ready to pick up and stick in the player - sunglasses at the ready.  I'm off!

Last Tuesday, I drove down our Arkansas driveway minutes before sunrise, with 405 miles ahead of me to Shawnee, Kansas. The first stop of three on the next stage of my 50-state labyrinth journey.  

                                                         Interstate 40 to 540 to 49   
                                                               Speed limit 70 
                                                         At 80 before I know it
Rest stop 
Gas stop

The sun was setting that afternoon as I sat at Joy Freeman's kitchen table and listened to not only her story, but her family's labyrinth story; then stepped into their backyard to walk the trinity path, Hope's Labyrinth. 

From Shawnee to Lebanon, Missouri the next morning, the road slowed me down.  Divided highways and two-laners encouraged me to turn off the book and spend two and a half hours in the company of farmland.

I wondered who lived in the farm houses, about their day's work, their connection to the land.  I wished for time to sit on a porch, sip tea, watch the world go by. But knew I wouldn't be sitting long before a busy farmer would walk around the corner and say, "No time for relaxing! Pick up that rake and follow me."

I reached Lebanon by 11:30. Ellie Smith shared her labyrinth story as we sat in the living room, warmed by a wood stove, two cats and a dog named Ruby. She then led me past garden, pond, and barn, into her 84 foot labyrinth, lined with prairie grass.


On the third day the road wove me back into northwest Arkansas, to visit Vickie Hall in Garfield. Vistas of the changing season spread out and closed in around me as I alternated between hills and valleys.

Vickie's yard was covered with leaves, ankle-deep and beyond. She pointed to the labyrinth, but only a vague outline of it was visible. "How can I walk it when I can't see it," I wondered, as we went inside to hear her story.  She described its classical, 7-circuit design, the rocks lining it, statues, mementos of meaning scattered throughout. Determined to uncover it, I asked for a rake, and started what would have been a multi-hour project, when her husband, Mike, asked, "Would you like for me to get the blower?"

                                                          Magically, in moments, Vickie's labyrinth appeared.

Three more hours, and I was home. Snacks eaten, CDs finished, water bottles emptied; my iPhone  filled with Joy, Ellie and Vickie's voices.
Stories and walks. 
Stories and walks.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A New Life

In the past five days since our grandson, Robert Chester Alexander Lewis, was born, I've attempted to write about the day. . .
      Katherine's strength
     Andy's devotion
     Elizabeth's (sister) attentiveness
     my elation, as witness, 
        to our daughter
       birthing a son

Were I writing on paper, mounds of crumpled frustration would litter the floor.  Instead, the delete key on my computer is exhausted, begging for reprieve.

Why is writing the story so challenging?  Why do my words sound hollow, repetitive, trite?
The translation from emotion to syntax flat, like brushstrokes without paint.

Then, this morning as I began again, I knew.

Robert's birth is not a narrative.  It is a poem.

a whisper of words,
profoundly felt yet
scarcely voiced

for fear that their speaking will
the scared.

That moment when what was not,

A life

A relationship
A love,

and yet

sleeping soundly
in my arms.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


October 22nd - Due Date!
The last ring on the paper chain, started 100 days ago, counting down to today.
Our daughter, Katherine, and her husband, Andy's, first child.

"Only 5% of babies are born on their due dates," Katherine tells me.  So we wait.  Andy at work.  Katherine and I eating cheese dip, watching West Wing episodes.

We don't know whether grandchild #5 will be a boy or girl, or what names Katherine and Andy have picked.  But we do know one thing with certainty. . . this child is already loved.

His/her room is ready.

Family and friends have filled it with gifts.
Mommy and Daddy have decorated it with joyful anticipation.

And Gramma Rose has knitted and quilted warmth and love into every stitch.

As I keep Katherine company this afternoon, my memories reach back 36 years, when I was a day away from our first child's due date.  I remember writing in my journal, "I may become a mother tomorrow!  "How will my life change? How will I know what to do? I've never even changed a diaper."  

There was much I didn't know about the little son who would, indeed, be born on his due date; but there was one thing I knew with certainty. . . he was already loved, as were his sisters in years to come.

And nothing could have prepared me more for motherhood.

How fortunate I am to share this day with my daughter, soon to be a mother.  Wasn't it only yesterday that she was the baby I was awaiting?




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Dreamy Day-Trip From NYC

When my head nestled into the pillow, I hoped for pleasant dreams.  Fall leaves, smiling pumpkins, expansive views of the Hudson River Valley. The day, after all, had been glorious!  A drive with Drew out of NYC to Sleepy Hollow and Poughkeepsie.  But in the far corner of my consciousness, seconds before sleep, I glimpsed the shadowy outline of a man on a horse, a man. . . without a head.

Sleepy Hollow is the place of legends -- haunted woods, murky swamp, ghostly graveyard, Ichabod Crane, headless horseman, mysterious disappearance.  But on a brilliantly sunny morning, in the middle of town, there was nothing to fear, I told myself.

Whimsical witches, snaggle-toothed vampires, jovial scarecrows and big-headed pumpkins greeted us from lamp poles and atop cookies.
But, could it be that all was not as Disney-esque as it appeared?. . . .

On a hillside in the town's cemetery, lies the author whose Legend of Sleepy Hollow put the little known hamlet on the map in 1820 -- Washington Irving. I wonder if the story might have been his.  Had he been jilted by a beautiful young woman, chased down a deserted road, over a bridge, somehow left alive to tell the tale? Or did the horseman creep into the writer's dreams, to live forever in literary eternity?

Only silence met my questions.

Shaking off the feeling that someone (something) was watching us exit the cemetery gates, I picked up the pace to the car.

Sixty miles north in Poughkeepsie, the Hudson River Valley erased my uneasiness with one sweeping view of her grandeur.

Walkway Over The Hudson, at 212 feet tall and 1.28 miles long, is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world.  We walked its length and back, awed by vistas and engineering.

Drew (far right) begins the walk

Autumn colors tried to upstage one another in the "Wow, look at that!" category.  From the bridge  Drew and I "wow-ed" a flaming beauty at the same time. She dipped her head, with a tinge of pink embarrassment, or was it pride?

Images from the day may have swept through my dreams --
a black-cloaked horseman, perhaps, galloping across a rickety bridge, eating a pumpkin cookie while shouting, "Wow, look at that amazing tree!"

All I know is that I awoke with a smile on my face.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cloudy With NO Chance of Meatballs, Only Wisdom

(Title borrowed from the book, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ronald Barrett)

If I added up the minutes of sunshine during my ten-day trip to Alaska, Washington, Montana and Idaho, I'm guessing it would be 28.  Okay, maybe 30, but that's stretching it. Apparently, a curious cloud had caught wind of my labyrinth retreats in Juneau, labyrinth visits in Seattle, Victor (MT) and Salmon (ID), and decided to tag along.  I know; I should have been flattered.  She was a sizable presence and could have attached herself to any number of worthy travelers, so I tolerated, even welcomed, her company.  Until Lost Trail Pass on the Montana/Idaho border.  Then I lost patience.

But I get ahead of myself.

Juneauites are accustomed to cloudy days.  After all, the city is located in the Tongass National Forest, a part of the larger Pacific temperate rainforest. Some variety of precipitation falls 230 days of the year, on average. So, when I visited Janis Burns Buyarski to hear the story of her labyrinth, she was 
prepared . . .

Janis not only built her own Living Waters Labyrinth, but was one of the creative minds behind the construction of the Merciful Love Labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Therese, a few miles down the road, where the retreats were held.

The cloud's on-again, off-again drizzle didn't phase the women walkers who donned rain jackets and dotted the landscape with multi-colored brightness.


At Tricia Layden's Seattle labyrinth, the cloud kept her distance, still present but aloof, observing, pondering.

She grew bolder, more inquisitive, at Patty Meyer's Redsun Labyrinth in Victor, Montana, dipping her wispy white hair closer to the ground.

Then swirled among mountaintops in Salmon, Idaho, mimicking Rebecca Foster and her new baby, Lilly's (bundled in a carrier), joyful labyrinth dance.

Lost Trail Pass (elev. 7014) loomed as my friend, Mary Toland, and I left Salmon, headed back toward Missoula.  An early winter storm warning for elevations above 6000 feet lay in our path.  With a fear of heights for anything higher than a step ladder, I was nervous, very nervous.  But the cloud had a lesson for me on this journey, one she had been waiting - for just the right moment - to impart.

I inched toward the crest of the pass at 40 MPH, as snow blew across the windshield and accumulated on the road. Mary calmly talked to me about -- who knows?  Her tomato plants, a Starbucks latte in our future, anything.  She even laughed.  She took the pictures. A constant connection.

At the top I felt victorious, until I realized that going down could be trickier.  I slowed to 20 and looked only at the patch of road directly in front of me, not at the drop-off beyond the guardrail.  That's all I was responsible for, the only thing in my life, at that moment, that I could do anything about.
I felt a sense of unexpected freedom, a joyfulness that comes from fully experiencing a moment,
the only moment you have.  

Much like the labyrinth. 
One step at a time.

The cloud smiled.   


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Labyrinth Retreats in Alaska!

"Come to Juneau and facilitate a labyrinth retreat for our book group," Margie said.
"Come to Juneau and facilitate a labyrinth retreat for our book group, too." Sue said.
... Each friend generously offering to help me reach my certification requirement of three labyrinth facilitations within a year of my training.

I hesitated only briefly, wondering if we could actually make it happen.  But with these former teachers, along with friend Debbie in charge, I should have known better. Of course, they would masterfully organize the date, time, place, invitations, plane reservations, and all-important, "What should we have for lunch?"
They planned it, and I showed up.

In Juneau, Alaska!
Our family's home for nine years.
Still the home of dear friends and
pristine beauty that
uplifts and calms,
all in the same
deep breath.

The first labyrinth I ever walked.  
As I stood at the entrance the day before the retreats, I felt honored to be in her presence once again.  She felt like another Juneau friend, greeting me with a cheerful, "I've missed you!  Let's take a walk and catch up." 

The labyrinth gathered together sixteen women on Friday

and fifteen on Saturday.

Women who came for their own reasons - to learn, reflect, be present to themselves, spend a day in the company of other women they enjoy and respect, to discover what they were meant to discover. 

During the morning and afternoon labyrinth walks, the women circled from the entrance to the center and back, all on the same path, each on her own journey.

As the facilitator, I remained at the entrance, spacing the walkers, "holding the space."
Aware of footsteps,
  the constant
of women. 
Grateful to be among them.


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