Sunday, December 21, 2014

Holiday Wishes!

During this holiday season, I wish you a day as peaceful as I experienced last Saturday at The New York Botanical Garden, filled with….. 

Undisturbed solitude

Smooth transitions

                                                         Delightful companions

And a line of poetry that touches your soul

(Former United States Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, read selections from his newest collection, Aimless Love. His poems are dotted throughout the Garden during the holiday season.) 

by Billy Collins

The sky began to tilt, 
a shift of light toward the higher clouds,
so I seized my brush
and dipped my little cup in the stream,

but once I streaked the paper gray
with a hint of green,
water began to slide down the page,
rivulets looking for a river.

And again, I was too late--
then the sky made anther turn,
this time as if to face a mirror
held in the outstretched arm of a god.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Winding Road to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

I exited the #6 train on Spring Street with directions in hand to the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. A ten-minute walk. Twenty minutes later I was ???
I should have crossed Delancey (isn't that a movie?), then taken a right on Orchard, but Delancey was no where in sight. Almost to Canal, I knew I was headed the wrong way, so I stopped in a jewelry store for directions. A helpful saleswoman pointed me down the sidewalk I had just walked. (She was Chinese. I'll explain why that is significant later.)
"It's the big, busy street. You can't miss it," she said.

I retraced my steps, carefully reading each street sign along the way, only to find myself back at the subway stop. No big, busy street. No Delancey sign.

Again, I asked for directions.
A man loading paint cans on a dolly, looked up when I said, "Excuse me. Can you tell me where Orchard Street is?" (Forget Delancey. It apparently had disappeared.)
In a pronounced Swedish accent, he said, "Let me look on my phone." After a couple of swipes, he pointed, "That way, toward Delancey."
"Thank you, but I just came from there, and no Delancey!" My morning mindfulness mediation was wearing thin, and I was already late to meet my friend, Marian, and her sister, Marjie.
"Oh, Kenmare turns into Delancey," he explained. "Follow Kenmare and you'll see it."

Kenmare I had seen, twice.

A few blocks down Delancey, and I should have encountered Orchard, but…
Is this sounding familiar?

I stopped for a third time, entering a shoe store, where two African-American men greeted me from behind the counter.
"Am I anywhere close to the Tenement Museum on Orchard?" I asked.
"Sure, on the other side of Delancey," one of them answered.

Thanking them, I crossed Delancey, walked thirty seconds, and there - finally -  was my destination! Half an hour late, but still in time for our tour, "Sweatshop Workers."

Around the corner from the museum's visitor center, Marian, Marjie and I stood with a group of ten others in front of a door. The door to a five-story tenement building which housed nearly 7000 people from over 20 countries between 1863 and 1935.

A sign hung to our left, beginning the story we were to hear in the next hour.

When the door closed behind us, I imagined being one of the 7000 who walked into this dark, narrow hallway. Would have I been grateful to have a roof over my head? Would I have wanted to turn around and run? Pray? Rejoice? Where would I have summoned the strength, not only in my legs but in my heart, to climb the steep bannistered stairways to my tiny tenement home and my new life?

When Marian and I visited Ellis Island last month, we learned that as a result of the 12 million immigrants who traveled through its gates, approximately 100 million descendants populate this country. And their number continues to grow with each generation. As I stood in two of these family's apartments and heard their stories, I was inspired by the lives they created - despite the hardships they endured. I was proud of a country, my country, that provided them opportunities, and valued their contributions.

But America is not only my country.  It belongs as much to the Chinese woman, the Swedish man, the African-American men who pointed me along my way -- ironically, to an immigrant museum.
One building among hundreds like it, where people built their lives and the life of a nation.

Today's immigrants, like their predecessors, are transforming the neighborhood - and challenging us to provide new answers to old questions. Who is American? What does it mean to be a citizen? What is our responsibility to those in need? What should "home" look like? It is their future that gives the past  -  a past that this Museum studies and celebrates - such resonance.
-- A Tenement Story
{The History of 97 Orchard Street and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum}

Photo credit - Tenement Museum



Monday, November 17, 2014

Connecting Around the Labyrinth

When I ask people if they have walked a labyrinth or know what one is, most usually think I'm talking about a maze. Like the one that Harry Potter fought his way out of in "The Goblet of Fire," or the cornfield variety whose puzzling twists and deadends have caused more than one lost walker to call 911. I explain, as someone did for me as a labyrinth novice, that a labyrinth is trustworthy - not deceitful. It is one path, the same path, that leads the walker to the center and back out. With the path certain, the walker can free his/her mind to meditate, ponder, question, notice.

Imagine my excitement this weekend as I rubbed elbows with over 100 people whose every other word seemed to be labyrinth!

Opening ceremony of the 16th Annual Gathering of The Labyrinth Society at
the Duncan Center in Del Ray, Florida

Not only were they talking about labyrinths but making them, from the contemplative to whimsical!

Peace Labyrinth
(designed by Lisa Moriarty; painted by Steve Selpal)

Pinecone Labyrinth
(created by Tony Christie and Ole Jensen)

Flower Labyrinth
(created by Tom Vetter)

Flamingo Labyrinth, of course!
It's Florida.
(created by Lars Howlett)

Connection was my intention for my first labyrinth Gathering.
Connection with others for whom the labyrinth holds unique significance, personally and within community.
Deeper connection to self on my continuing path of discovery.
RE-connection was an added bonus!

Catherine walking her backyard labyrinth during my
visit - April 19, 2013

Catherine Anderson, whose labyrinth in Charlotte, North Carolina was the 18th I visited on my 50-state labyrinth journey, was a fellow participant! The chances that I would select her labyrinth to visit in North Carolina, then meet her again one and a half years later in Florida, speaks to the connecting power of the labyrinth.

Sharing a peace labyrinth at the Gathering
(designed by Lisa Moriarty)

The challenge after any conference or retreat which transports you from the "ordinary" into a realm of possibility and inspiration, is to somehow fit your experiences into the rhythm of daily life. A quote by one of the presenters, Gary Boelhower, gives me a direction…

"The actualization of a journey is in the revisiting." 

As I unpack my suitcase this morning, I move forward with the next step -- Reflection.

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Voices of Millions" at Ellis Island

It's been a week since my friend, Marian, and I visited Ellis Island, and I am still haunted by it. Haunted in the same way that images of Titanic's vacant decks and abandoned staterooms beg that their stories  be told. In the same way that the stillness of a Civil War battlefield, now peaceful, holds thousands of stories within its silence.

There are 12 million stories in the halls of Ellis Island, 12 million! Immigrants - some alone, others with friends or family - who passed through the Great Hall from 1892-1954.  Each with a story.

Perhaps it was the artifacts on the 3rd floor of the Immigration Museum that triggered my  imagination. Encased in glass, preserved exactly as they were found before restoration began in 1999.


Who lay in the hospital bed?
 Was she frightened, separated from her family,
 suffering from tuberculosis?

Who sat in the chair - stamping papers, asking questions?
Did the faces across the desk follow him home at night, or blur into oneness?
Perhaps it was the windows, now smartly shaded, where views of Manhattan meant a new home to one, a dream denied to another.

Or perhaps it was the faces.

Eleni Mylonas, photographer/artist roamed the abandoned remains of Ellis Island for three months in 1983.  "I wandered around in silence, letting myself be guided by unknown forces compelling me to explore unlikely desolate corners of the endless mass," she wrote. One of her photographs hangs on the 3rd floor of the Immigration Museum.

Ellis Island, now empty of the immigrants who came and went,  continues to be alive with their dreams. Our country is alive with their ancestors, approximately 100 million of them.

As Eleni Mylonas described it, "….the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows."  

Monday, October 13, 2014


I awakened to rain.
Pudgy downpours
squeezed through gutters.
Lively droplets
puddled in mud.     
Birds' bath
Flower pots 
Flood Warning

I poured a cup of tea and sat on the window seat at our Arkansas home. It would be a cozy inside day.  Perfect! I needed to tweak my book proposal for Labyrinth Journey ~ Fifty States, Fifty-One Stories and email it to a publisher.

No need to rush here, there.
No distractions to rake, weed.
The weather was my ally as I pulled chair to desk and opened my computer.

Yet at the same time, son Jason sat at the Little Rock airport. Flight to Corpus Christi delayed, then cancelled.

No luck re-booking for tomorrow.
No opportunity to attend the anticipated conference.

The same weather, not so perfect.

Such a lesson in perspective, isn't it?
Not a new lesson; nothing I don't already know.
But a reminder.
To appreciate
To be aware
To gingerly hold both
in the palm of my hand.


Monday, September 22, 2014

A Mindful Weekend

Books seem to magically appear in my life when I need them the most, but I may not know it at the time. A book may even sit on the shelf for months, until my life catches up with what its pages are waiting to share. It was because of a book that I spent the past weekend at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, Connecticut at a mindfulness retreat.

The book, of course, came along on the train ride from Grand Central Station to Waterbury, Connecticut, then in friend Marian's car on to Copper Beech. I'm not sure which of us was more excited, although I kept hearing muffled giggles from the zippered compartment of my suitcase.
The book's author, Sharon Salzberg, was the featured speaker at the retreat. Book and author were to be reunited, and I was going to meet the author whose words course through my mindfulness meditations each morning. It was a toss-up.

 Kindness as a Force sounded like a misnomer when I first picked up the book seven years ago. A force is strong, heavy, powerful. Kindness is well, kind. Gentle. It doesn't bowl you over like an 80 MPH wind, but sits beside you and helps you hang on. It stays and picks up the pieces afterwards. A force, perhaps, with a quieter nature.

The well-loved book - read three times, underlined, starred, decorated with blue post-it notes - continues to push me along a path of compassion toward self and others. It introduced me to lovingkindness meditation and, along with Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, encouraged me to live in the present moment. It prepared me for a longer path, a journey of labyrinths, where self-discovery and insight spiral through other walkers I meet along the way.

With a hundred or so men and women this weekend, I practiced sitting meditation, walking meditation, lovingkindness meditation. I stretched my body in gentle yoga. I walked a peaceful labyrinth in the early morning as the sun was topping a circle of trees.

I was kind to myself. The place where all kindness must begin.

As I handed Sharon my book to sign, I had a gushy speech, filled with flowery words of author admiration, all prepared to deliver. But when it came to the moment, I said simply,
"Thank you. Your words have made a difference in my life."

The book could hardly contain its excitement as Sharon's pen touched the paper.

We both carry her words inside us with a smile.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Most Important Words in Today's NY Times

I love our Sunday morning routines, especially on a day as lovely as today! Blue skies, fluffy clouds, cooler temperatures minus the humidity. We're out the door by 7:30, down the 49 floors from our apartment, out the revolving doors, onto Washington Boulevard. Monday-Friday one of Jersey City's busiest streets. But today, quiet, peacefully quiet. One car slows down our jaywalk across two intersections, passed a shaded park lined with red and white periwinkles and remnants of roses, stubbornly hanging on for dear life.

Five minutes later, we're at Starbucks.
A couple of classic oatmeals, blueberry scone, grandé coffee for Drew, tall-vanilla-nonfat-decaf latte for me, or a "What's the use?" as one baffled barista once dubbed my order.
And a New York Times.

A thick Sunday New York Times. An even thicker New York Times stuffed with two added inserts, The New Season of fall movies AND The New Season of theater, classical and dance. At least two hours of reading enjoyment!

We find a bench, dappled with a sunshine/shade pattern, and put the paper aside. The view grabs our attention, more than any headline could.


Boats at Newport Marina

The Hudson

Downtown Manhattan skyline

One World Trade Center

Adjectives only get in the way.

I sift through each section, read, set aside. Drew does the same as we exchange the front page for "Travel" for "The Sunday Review."

Then I start my own piles - "Keep" and "Save." There's always something in "Save" that has caught my eye, that I will bring home and clip. Yes, I'm a newspaper clipper! Each week, anywhere from five to ten items end up on my bulletin board, "Things To Do in NYC" file, in an envelope to a friend or family member, my journal, or on the refrigerator door. I never question why they appeal to me. They just do, and they usually affect my life in a positive way.

Here is this week's collection…..

-article ("Liking Work Really Matters") by Paul A. O'Keefe which cites research for what seems common sense. "Being interested in a task is essential to being good at it." Why do we often forget this?
-bits and pieces from the bestseller lists with interesting books highlighted in yellow
- article about Glenn Close who will be appearing in "A Delicate Balance" on Broadway. The dates of the play go on my calendar and the article to our daughter, Katherine, who assisted Ms. Close recently at the Apple store in Portland, Maine, where she came in for help with her computer.
-an advertisement for the movie "My Old Lady," which starts Wednesday - looks delightful

And a quote - the most important find in my two hours of reading, by Steven Sotloff,
the second journalist killed by ISIS.

It goes on the refrigerator so I will read his words every day.
 Words which will endure long beyond the lives of those who ended his.  

Live your life to the fullest and fight to be happy
Everyone has two lives. 
The second one begins when you realize you have only one.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jane Franklin - One Woman's Story, Almost Forgotten

Have you heard of Jane Franklin
The picture on the cover of the book won't give you a clue. It is a portrait of her granddaughter, painted in 1765. 
No picture of Jane survives.  
The fact that she ever lived would have long been forgotten, had it not been for her older brother, known to the majority of Americans (colonists) of his time and of ours.

I happened to hear the book's author, Jill Lepore, interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air almost a year ago.   I added the title to my "To Read" list, then forgot about it until July when I was searching for a book to take on vacation. Not quite a beach read for our beach vacation to Maui, but I was purposefully looking for a book of substance - about a woman of substance.
The trip to Hawaii was the culmination of my 2-year journey to visit a labyrinth envisioned and/or built by a woman in each state.  I carried their stories with me as I traveled to meet the 50th woman, walk her labyrinth and hear her story.

The power of stories 
Only through listening to women tell their stories 
have I learned how deeply another person's story can impact my own.

All we know of Jane Franklin's story is through Benjamin's letters to her, the few surviving letters of hers to him and other family members, and her Book of Ages, where she recorded the births and deaths of her children. It is surprising that Jane, born in 1712 "when the Massachusetts poor laws required that boys be taught to write and girls to read," learned to write at all. Benjamin taught her, before he ran away from home to write his own story.

While her brother became famous, Jane lived on the edge of poverty with a husband, constantly in debt,  and a total of twelve children, eleven of whom died. She cared for her ailing parents and took in boarders to help with expenses.

                                                    She worked hard, very hard. 
She loved, lost, and lost again. 
She read whenever she could 
and wrote her letters.

No one knows where she was buried. Perhaps near the 20-foot granite obelisk erected for Benjamin in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.

At the end of her book, Jill Lepore quotes Virginia Woolf's essay, "The Art of Biography":

The question now inevitably asks itself, whether the lives of great men only should be recorded. Is not anyone who has lived a life, and left a record of that life, worthy of biography -- the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious? And what is greatness? And what is smallness?

It is Jane herself who answers Virginia's probing questions. In her own hand. In a letter to her brother.

"I am willing to Depart out of it [life] when ever my Grat Benifactor has no farther Use for me.
I know the most Insignificant creature on Earth may be made some Use of in the Scale of Beings, may Touch some Spring."

The first page of Jane's Book of Ages



Monday, August 11, 2014

My OWN Labyrinth - Part 2

When I daydreamed of building a labyrinth in our yard, I naively imagined that we would whip it into shape in a weekend or two.

Labyrinth laborers 
preparing the ground
setting the design
stepping back 
arms folded

It is Step 2 in my 3-Step Plan. 
1. Complete visits
2. Build labyrinth
3. Write *book

But two weeks into the project, sitting on a pile of bricks, I slow down long enough to hear that voice, the one that lets me fret a bit before imparting her wisdom. Today it comes in the form of a question. 
"Have you learned nothing on this journey?" she asks. 
I detect impatience.

Of course, I know where she's headed with this line of questioning. I know...but I forget.

The path takes time to walk. 
There are lessons to be learned in the doing, the day-to-day, the creation.
Pay attention to what is before you.

The "army" of laborers has temporarily left. Without them I could not have begun. 

Anne Hornstein, whose labyrinth in Florida was the first I walked on my fifty-state journey,
helps me measure the center. She "happened" to be driving to Colorado and
offered to consecrate the space and help with the lay-out. 

Drew unloads 100+ bricks and pushes them,
one wheelbarrow load at a time,
to the labyrinth site (opposite side of the house.)
Our son-in-law, Ben, precisely measures
the center circle of bricks.

The labyrinth and I share the space for quiet hours, surrounded by trees, birdsong and inquisitive mosquitoes, only moderately repelled by Deep Woods Off. 

It won't be finished for several months, as I go back and forth to New York, and as other hands take turns digging trenches and laying bricks.
I take a deep breath and realize that's as it should be.

The labyrinth is growing, 
one brick at a time.
As am I.

 *working title of book -
  Labyrinth Journeys
 Fifty States… Fifty-One Stories 


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My OWN Labyrinth - Part 1

"Sure, I'm going to build my own labyrinth," I've been telling women for the last two years. Women who have already created theirs; one woman in every state, as those of you know who have been following my journey.

"So, what do you think is holding you back?" asked Mary in Iowa, as we visited at the edge of her prairie labyrinth last summer?

The mowed entrance to Mary Dreier's "Soul of the Prairie" labyrinth,
which circles through a field of prairie grasses.  It is marked by a bell,
peace pole, and stone.
 The question caught me off guard. My pat answer, "I'm just not at our Arkansas home long enough to get started, " was true enough, but was there more?  Mary's intuition seemed to think so, but it has taken me another year and the completion of my travels, to name it.

Was it that I hadn't located the spot on our five acres that "felt" right? Three tree-circled spaces looked promising. I even asked the trees, "What do you think? Would you be OK with a labyrinth in your neighborhood?" No response, which I interpreted as, "Thanks for asking, but keep looking," as if this were a game of Hide-and-Seek, and I was still "cold."

Was it that the whole project was too overwhelming? Did I lack the confidence and/or ability to begin? Yes, and yes.
I knew I wanted to build a Chartres-style labyrinth with its 11 circuits and 34 turns, but how?

Would the path be grass, gravel, mulch, or?

Would the lines be brick, rock, plants, or?

Who could help me with the math, my least favorite subject since….forever!?

But still, there was more. Like a pot of boiling water that simmers down to the last inch, I expected my answer to be at the bottom, easily fished out and served on a plate. As we know, though, answers tend to be a bit slipperier than that.

"You are not yet ready to build your labyrinth. You will know when you are," came the ambiguous voice, once I calmed the churning waters long enough to listen.

It was clear that "ready" did not mean the perfect spot, the ideal
materials, the tricky math. It meant me.

Building a labyrinth is an emotional and spiritual investment. It's a connection to an ancient design that people have walked for thousands of years, for reasons we will never fully understand. I walk them as a meditation, for calm, peace, reflection, guidance, for whatever I may need to notice. I am drawn to labyrinths built outdoors, in the earth, where my feet touch ground as I walk. There is a living connection between  us.

Until two weeks ago, I was not ready.
Now I am.
How do I know?
I just do.
That feeling you can't fully explain, but that won't go away.
Until you listen.
And act.

Or maybe the labyrinth itself is ready to be built. All I know is that I'm now laying bricks, with the support of  amazing helpers!
Please join me next week for Part 2 - "Beginning!"

Son-in-law, Ben,  along with grandsons,
Luke and Nate help me get started.

I'd appreciate your comments… How do you know when something is "right" in your life -
to move forward,
make a change,
take one path over another…
to begin?



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Coming Full Circle on Maui

Those of you who are Facebook "Friends" may have seen pictures of my Maui labyrinth walk, #50 of 50, shortly after I completed it.

Other faithful blog friends will catch up with me now - a week later - back home, unpacked, somewhat incredulous (always wanted to use that word) that the trip actually happened.

When I began planning the trip in February, I still had twelve states to visit. Hawaii was always going to be the last one, but I had "miles to go" before that could happen.
Not to mention finding a woman,
who had built an outdoor labyrinth,
in Hawaii,
who would be available for a visit,
the first week in July!
Before plane reservations or condo searches, this woman…whoever she might be… had to be found, had to say "Yes."  Hunched over my laptop like a fortune teller over her crystal ball, I consulted  the World Wide Labyrinth Locator once again.  In 48 of the past 49 searches, it had successfully conjured my destinations.  And now, another possibility --

Eve Hogan
The Sacred Garden
460 Kaluanui Rd.
Makawao, Maui, Hawaii

A woman with two outdoor labyrinths.  Less than twenty-four hours of my email request, Eve replied with a gracious and enthusiastic "Yes!" Maui in July!!

Eve completes the 50 states!

On July 3rd, I walked Eve's 11-circuit labyrinth, encircled by the lushness of Maui's rainforest, accompanied by husband and friends.

Drew and friends,
Marian and Jim Levine join me in the center

I carried a miniature copy of the USA map that hangs on my closet door, filled with pictures of the other women whose labyrinths I walked over the past two years.

Gratitude and relief spilled over me as I took the final step.

And yet, that was not the final step.

There were two other labyrinths on Maui that would touch me in the next five days.

 "If you're in the Kapalua area, check out the Dragon's Teeth Labyrinth," Eve mentioned at the end of our conversation.  "It's built on sacred Hawaiian ancestral grounds, amazing energy and winds."
"That's where we're staying!" I answered, at this point in my journey not at all surprised in the "coincidence."

The next morning at 5:45, I followed Eve's directions down the road from our condo, across the fairway of a golf course, out onto a rocky point. A majestic 11-circuit labyrinth - grass, lava rock and coral-lined - spiraled in the wind.

I was the only one there as the sun rose, and the only one there for the next four mornings as I walked to the center and sat.
In the distance Dragon's Teeth (Hawaiian name Makaluapuna Point),
formed by thousands of years of  lava, wind and water,
protected me.

The third labyrinth was of my own making.  In the smooth sand just beyond the reach of  waves pulsing in and out, I took a stick and drew a classical labyrinth. Anne Hornstein, whose beach labyrinth in Destin, Florida was the first labyrinth I walked on this journey, taught me how to draw one… in the sand.

My journey had come full circle.

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