out my window

oakleaf hyd

No matter the season, the garden has lessons for me. Just out my north bedroom window is an oakleaf hydrangea. It hasn’t always been in that spot. Like most of the smaller plantings in my backyard, it has been moved as my vision for the cloister has changed and been refined. For a few years it was tucked away in a wet spot–hydrangeas love water (note the  hydra- in their name) not standing water, but moisture for sure, back by the air conditioner.

It was doing ok there but not flourishing. Oakleaf hydrangeas are really specimen plants…they are show pieces and, thus, need to be showcased. I had plunked it back in that spot because my focus was on other things. It was languishing, just barely putting out a mis-formed flower head.

As I have matured in my garden desires my mantra for the garden has refined to the point if the plant isn’t happy, isn’t flourishing or is taking too much care, something must be done. Spending my energy wisely makes me a much happier camper. Fewer plants, more focus.

With the last bit of hardscaping in the backyard just completed, I decided that  the oak-leaf needed to move to a spot where it would be noticed. Out went the boxwoods–lost because of winter kill–in went the hydrangea. Its fancy leaves would be the star of the show out my window.

It was a misshapen thing, not a beauty in the least. Because it had always  tried to stretch towards the filtered sun, it was stunted and scraggily; it needed some support. I was happy to oblige.

Returning from my neatly organized (by height) stock of stakes with just the right one, I pushed it into the ground (mindful of the plant’s roots) and proceeded to tie the plant in a couple of places with my ever ready supply of green florists’ wire. There. All better.

For the rest of the summer and on into the fall the hydrangea settled in nicely. It bloomed right on time! It was happy in its new center-stage spot. Along with the oakleaf-shaped leaves, there were the wonderful full panticles, all lacy and shaped like floppy cones. It was flourishing. I loved looking out the window to enjoy the fruits of my and its labors.


Then, weather arrived.  Not winter, just weather. As my grandfather said to me one day long ago as I was bemoaning the miserable late-January weather in Michigan: “Wherever you go,  you’ve got weather.” In other words, get over it! I did. I do. I have boots of all sorts, coats for all seasons, hats, caps, scarves, gloves, mittens, umbrellas, too. I am well prepared to weather the weather. And I mostly refuse to be daunted by what’s outside.

But plants haven’t got a choice. They depend upon those of us who adopt them and ask them to adapt to our visions, to provide the proper care. Just as I had propped the oak-leaf hydrangea so that it would grow taller and fuller, just as some wrap their tender plants in burlap cocoons; just as we dig up tender corms to store for winter, we  sometimes help/care too much.

The winds howled mightily. Day and night. I’ve been in hurricanes; even stood on my neighbor’s front porch and watched a tornedo rip through the northwest section of the city I lived; and I have been tossed and turned in high waters and blustery cold winds in a small yacht on the Great Lakes. This wind was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  The phrase ‘not fit for man nor beast’ about summed it up. I was so lucky I had no need to leave.  Trees were nearly flattened. Sirens blared. Leaves, branches, flotsam all went swirling. Hold on to your hat!


The top of the hydrangea broke right off…right at the spot where I had so carefully tied it. Nearly 1/3 of the plant was broken off, gone. Teathered to a plant stake, the plant was unable to do what it needed to do–bend in the wind. It was fixed in place, stuck.

I look out my window each morning now and look at what I wrought and feel sad.

And then I think about other things that I’ve teathered up. Ideas, relationships, thoughts. What needs to be let go so it can bend when the unexpected winds coming blowing through, I wonder. What binds me? Causes me to be too stiff sometimes? Where am I stuck?

I recall my years of Education For Ministry (EFM), a four-year study of the bible sponsored by our church.  Our group  laughed heartily as we leaned about and began to  recognize our selves in the phrase ‘stiff-necked people’. We sheepishly admitted that not only were others pretty darn ‘stiff-necked’ but we just might be/were also.

Guess it was time for me to re-learn that lesson. Humility is a great teacher. The hydrangea will grow better without my assistance from now on, as I allow it to bend as it will.


May your holidays be full of everything you NEED: love, joy, smiles, laughter all wrapped up with a big dollop of humility…


as always, thank-you for reading!



Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!




Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!

“what is good for the heart is good for the brain”        Ram Dass


When I enrolled in my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I was not quite sure where I was headed. I’ve done lots of different things in my life—from speech therapy to running for the local school board to attending seminary—but none of those activities really engaged all that I wanted to do. I wanted to share, I wanted to help others, I wanted to be creative and most of all, I wanted to connect with others. And be connected to others in a meaningful way. Connection. Finally I found something that helped me connect my ‘dots’. Brain, body and spirit all working in tandem. TA DA! The invitation was clear: sharing yoga would be connecting with others and helping them to also connect their ‘dots’. Whole self learning!

Yoga means to yoke: to bring the whole person into being alive. Long ago my grandmother shared her motto with me which I proceeded to adopt, “Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!” if only in the desire to be more like her.

I find that yoga helps me to do just that. I am more alert when I move my body in intentional ways. I am more alive when I bring my mind into the present moment. Being aglow, too, is a big part of yoga: allowing for the light to shine from within. Moving beyond the ego to a sense of being an individual, yes, but one who is a meaningful part of the world, that’s a great feeling. Yoga brought it all together for me.

I knew where I was headed: teaching children and families would be a big part of my yogic journey. Along with my background in storytelling and the belief that everyone is not only creative but also has a story to tell, I knew I wanted to share this ancient pathway to wholeness. Everything was coming together, for the good.

That’s what I want to share. I want to share that sense of being ALERT and attentive, not distracted and disengaged. I want to encourage others to become more of who they are—being really ALIVE to what their own passions are and then do the work to follow—to reach for the stars. And who doesn’t love being around someone who is GLOWING? We love basking in the warmth and assuredness that Light provides.

We are the Light; we need to let our Lights really shine. We all want that sense of inner knowing—knowing that what we are doing is making the world a better place; that we are doing something that no one else can do. Our children are the Lights that will step into the future.

This connectedness I believe, is essential for our children. Being Alert to their unique selves; being Alive to what makes them special and then the result that makes it all worthwhile: the Glow that they share with all. Watching the students that I have been privileged to work with for the past few years has been one of the most joyful moments of my teaching. I have seen children become more Alert, more Alive, and more Aglow through their yoga practice.

at McKinley 2015

What better way to teach our children to become the best that they can be than through movement? That’s what children are all about! They communicate through movement. If they are tired, stressed, hungry and depleted, they are going to act out.  (Ah hem, adults do it too.) How many times have you heard a child say, “Y’know, mom, I’m really tired. I think I’ll go to bed early tonight.” Hmmmm. Never happened in my house.

Children move. They are growing not just physically but emotionally and mentally. By offering them purposeful movement we are supporting the natural condition. By teaching them to honor themselves in all manner, to not compare themselves to others, to enjoy what comes their way each day, we are encouraging them to become alert to possibilities. Wonder, curiosity, passion. We awaken all of these things when we start them on the yogic path—the pathway that will keep them grounded all the while encouraging them to reach for the stars.

Let’s get started today! Help your child reach for the stars. Yoga has been around for over 5000 years. It’s not like we are making it up as we go along. Rather, we are tapping into the very essence of a complete education. Brain, body, spirit all working together for good. For life.

I’m ready when you are. Classes, private sessions, family time, whatever works for you. My passion is to enable others to: Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!


Thanks for reading, as always.


Storytelling Workshop by Mary Swander, Poet Laureate, on August 22

Two Rivers Story Spinners

Swander-MaryThe Two Rivers Story Spinners guild is pleased to announce a workshop presented by Mary Swander, previous poet laureate, published writer, storyteller, playwright, and educator. The workshop will be held on Saturday, August 22, 2015 from 4:00 to 6:00 PM at Beaverdale Books, 2629 Beaver Avenue.

Swander is a former instructor at Iowa State University and the poet laureate for the state of Iowa. She is currently touring her newest production, VANG, a play about recent immigrant farmers. Workshop topics will explore the storytelling and writing process. Swander will also read from her publications and have signed copies of her book available for purchase. Complimentary wine and refreshments will be served.

The Two Rivers Story Spinners is presenting the workshop for $20.00 per person. Members of the Two Rivers Story Spinners are admitted free. Membership to the Two Rivers Story Spinners is $20.00/year. Membership privileges include monthly meetings/storytelling practice, news…

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Best Ever

PMB 002

I became a parent 46 years ago today…early in the am. Back then, we had to wait to find out the gender of our children and all I remember from the exhausted state I was in was saying “What did I have? What did I have?” Even after I was told I had birthed a son, I still repeated the question. Blame it on the pharmaceuticals which were the also part of the protocol 46 years ago.

There were so many things I wasn’t told by my obstetrician, a roommate of my father-in-law’s from college days. Things like: probably going to have to have a cesarean…both sets of parents knew but we didn’t! I know. Just imagine that in today’s world. It turned out he was wrong. Things like: learning how to breathe during labor–I kept thinking “Ethel Kennedy did this 11 times? She must be crazy.” I also told the nurse that I wanted to go home, rather continue with the work that was at hand: birthing a baby. Things like: it’s going to be a breach birth. It was. Foot first.

I wasn’t prepared for any of those things. But mostly, I wasn’t prepared to fall so crazy in love with such a small, perfect human being.

My life changed dramatically that day. Changed forever, beyond all knowing. Gone were the days I counted and waited, 13 past the magic ‘due’ date of August 2. Gone was the wonder if I would have a son. Gone, too, were any notions that I was afraid of parenting; I knew I could do what needed to be done.

We brought our baby home, giddy with joy. He slept through the night at 10 days old. I know, I lucked out! Our first plane trip, when he was just 6 months old, had a long delay at O’Hare. Didn’t phase our baby, not a bit. He gurgled and cooed and smiled, showing off his first new tooth. Nary a crying fit to be had.

I have so many precious memories tucked away and I’m not afraid to bring them out on grey days, to remind me of who this child, now a great big grown up man with a family of his own, was. The little boy who tenderly reached out for the red tulip in my front garden; the silly toddler that found my black and white Minnie Mouse shoes and clomped around in them with his blue corduroy hat on back words, to finish off the outfit. Oh you did know how to make me laugh.

The curly headed three year-old who caught his first sunfish, which my mother filleted and cooked just for him.

Look at what I caught!
Look at what I caught!

Through the years, your path has curved around bends I never knew existed, didn’t care to know about either. What I do know, what I’ve always known about you is that you, too, are a seeker. Your journey to understanding looks nothing like mine; how could it?  (You just had to have that emerald tree python, really?) Each of us has our own way of seeking. Sometimes it’s hard to watch what you chose. I am sure that goes both ways.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know before I began this parenting path, and if you’d told me ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. We have been at loggerheads; we’ve been stubborn. We’ve come apart; we’ve come together. We’ve grown, sometimes with our jaws clenched and our hearts broken. It’s been up and down and down and up. It’s been an experience beyond anything I could have imagined.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat. To see your smile, to know how much you have meant to me, to share our particular love…You bet I would. You have made me a better person. It was the Best Ever Day, when I first laid my eyes on you, dear Peter. Thank-you for being you.

Love you always.

Om. Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.


Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!

95, 50, 45, 25

raspberries in August 002

Happy 95th Dad!! Yup, 50 years ago today, our family of four moved from Westport, CT to Davenport (affectionately renamed ‘Sofa’ by my mother and me) Iowa, the largest of the four cities that make up the Quad-Cities. My parents had a difficult time finding the right place to live with mother flying out numerous times to find just the right place for her Danish modern tastes.

Nevermind that, thought Dad, I’ve found us the perfect place, high on a hill over looking the bend in the Mississippi (see map above) that yields confusion to all as the mighty Mississipp flows east to west in this area, rather than the normally thought-of north to south. Five acres of beautiful bluff, a 4-car garage with its own car wash installed as well as a bathroom and a two-bedroom apartment above. If that’s the garage, what must the house be like?  Indeed, it was quite the house.

Thus began the next segment in one man’s journey to success. He had purchased his ‘castle’ and we were part of the retinue that moved in with him. My father was nothing if not a captain. He was the captain of his own ship and we, wife, brother and me, we were his crew. Mother was a perfect first mate, while I filled in as child #1, aka, lady-in-waiting to all others and my brother as child #2, the SON. We all stood in his wake as he churned through the waters: creative, moody, charismatic, hard-working, popular and outlandish at times. Aye, aye, captain, we all responded.

The house, known by many by its house numerals: 45, became the scene for hours of laughter by the pool, bridge games with experts, guest house to famous television personalities, and two years after moving in, to the reception for my wedding, dance-floor and all.

Fifty years I have lived in Iowa. That’s a lot of living in one place. Especially when I’ve never really felt that Iowa is my home. So, if not here, then where? This is the place of daily-ness; washing the dishes, gathering the twigs, spotting the feathers, the place of doing this thing called living. What’s missing? Yes, the beaches of Lake Michigan, the pine tree smell as you drive along the highway into Saugatuck, spying the sand dunes through the shadows, the fresh fruit sold along the roads, familiar smells, sights, sounds. True enough, I still miss these things.

Fifty years I have driven past row upon row of corn–higher than an elephant’s eye and, if not corn stalks, soybeans flourishing in the hot Iowa summers. One visitor to our state looked at all of our crops and declared that Iowa was the most industrialized state in the union. I agree. It’s all about the economy. Maybe that’s why I’ve never felt like I was home. I know little to nothing about farm life other than what I’ve read. I’ve never wanted to live in a small town; Dubuque (two years, two months, too long) was small enough for me. The charm of rural life never captured my imagination.

Fifty years, forty of them spent in Des Moines, is a long time not feeling like you are home. My dad lived out his dream; I am glad he did. He earned it. He dared to dream big. He turned 45 the day we moved into ’45’, in the prime of his life. We all lived out his dream, fulfilling our assigned roles. My parents are both gone, yet my brother and I live on in Iowa, brought here because of one man’s dream.

“If you don’t have a dream, how you going to make a dream come true?” This line from my favorite broadway musical, South Pacific, haunts me. I never dared to dream, I was too busy being the lady-in-waiting.

Waiting for what, I ask. I am the captain of my own ship. I get to set the course of my own choosing.

95. 50. 45. 25.

What’s the 25, you ask?

This is the 25th day of my 40 day challenge. I keep showing up; certainly there is value in that. Showing up. Showing up to whatever comes my way next. I’ve got fifty years of experience of doing just that. That’s life and as funny as it may seem, it works for me. Choosing to show up to my very own life and claiming that life, may just be my bravest move yet.

Om. Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.


Be Alert, Be Alive Be Aglow


August Fun 012

I picked up this whisp of a little feather on my way home from my challenge-walk this morning. It’s obviously an interior feather…small and soft and fuzzy. Don’t know the bird, maybe you do? One thought quickly led to another sparked by the feather and then I knew what I wanted to say…sort of.

One warm spring morning I listened to a sermon preached in a lovely chapel filled with soon-to-be graduates. The speaker chose the Emily Dickenson poem ‘Hope is a Thing with Feathers’ as his metaphor for the sermon. I’m not sure exactly what he said, but I did remember the line and how quickly I can summon up that moment whenever I hear that phrase.

Our third son was graduating high school, his future ensured by an early college admit. The day was gorgeous, the graduates stunning in their uniforms and graduation gowns. We sat in the bleachers beaming with pride for his accomplishments. Indeed, our hearts were full of hope on that glorious day. He was on his way.

It’s one thing to watch them walk their path; altogether another when what they chose brings tears of joy mixed with sadness when their choices bring to our doorstep the meaning of letting go. Last week, that very same son accepted an offer for a better job, in another city. Hope for a better world for himself and his dear sweet family sends him down this path.

He leaves in less than a month. Hardly time to turn around, much less get used to the fact he will no longer live just a mile or two away. Of course I’m happy for him! We want our children to move on with their lives, be all they can be. At least we say we do; most times we mean it, too.

I am grateful for all the years we were in the same town. All the times we had together. I couldn’t be happier that he is making his way in the world.

But, but, but….

There are planes to Dallas, I hear.

Here’s to more hopes, may all your dreams come true. And here’s a feather to make for a softer landing.

Love you so much.

Om. Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.


Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!

Animal Tales/Tails

oppossumNice opossum, I whispered softly. The opossum was weaving this way and that across the bicycle path, stretching one paw out in a strange and disturbing pattern followed by another and another. I took a deep breath and slowly backed away, keeping my eyes sharply focused on the animal. A nocturnal animal out during the morning hours? The animal was obviously sick, probably rabid; the beady little eyes were glazed and unfocused. I gave him as much room as I could and waited a bit to see if it would attempt to charge towards me. One scrawny leg, claws extended, reached out, followed by another, wobbling as it went. Let nature take its course, I decided. I walked away with as little movement as possible, not wanting to disturb the poor, dying creature. I said a quick blessing for its life, all the while trying to keep as calm as I could.

A mere 24 hours later and about 15 feet from where I met opossum yesterday, I glanced over the un-mown lawn and noticed another animal, up on its haunches, nearly the color of the tree trunk it was next to. There was a large hole at the base of the tree, its home, I presumed. We stared at each other. What was it? I couldn’t quite tell. Certainly not a raccoon, no tell-tale bandit eyes; too big to be a rat, or a vole; not a mole because he had eyes. The fur was lustrous, gleaming in the dappled sun coming through the leaves; the fur looked like it would be very warm and water repellant. Turn around, so I can see your tale, I said to him. He continued to stare at me, not a muscle moving that I could see. Taking it all in, trying to decide if I were friend or foe.

Finally, he turned his head toward the tree and in one elegant swoosh, he was gone, scrambling soundlessly down to his home. The quick glance I got was not of a flat, wide tale as a beaver might have but rather a black thin tale that ended in a point, much like a rat’s tale. Was it a muskrat, I thought? Hmmm.

Dunno, but sure is weird to see two animals in two days within 10-15 feet of one another. Strange, that. Maybe I’d better do some checking when I get home.

I own decks of animal cards and at least 9 reference books about Animals and Animal Lore. Most had something to say about opossum; none of them had a word about muskrat. What does it mean when animals appear like that in your life?

Everyone is familiar with opossum’s strategy for survival: play dead, complete with attending musk smell. Often it is suggested that if opossum shows up it’s a good idea for you to stop playing dead, to take some strategic action, to ACT. Opossum’s are such great actors. Are you play-acting or is someone around you putting on an act? Hmmm. Wake up and smell the roses, opossum might be saying.

Muskrat? I haven’t a clue what he might be telling me. Do you know anything about muskrat? I read that muskrat is a great animal for helping to maintain wetlands as they eat cattails and other noxious weeds. Maybe they’ve invaded our little creek for environmental reasons? But, do muskrats live in the hollows of trees? Not according to what I read.

Honoring what crosses our paths, being alert to what is happening in our own neck of the woods, helps us to realize the mysterious ways that are always present. Sometimes seen and understood; sometimes remaining just beyond our ken. I’m comfortable with that feeling. The not knowing. The mystery of it all.

My journey has been full of strangers along the way with messages for me, sometimes seen and understood; some, more obtuse. I am also reminded that while I think I might be transparent and real, others might wonder who I really am. Would they like to see something more distinguishing, a tail, perhaps? Or the removal of a mask? Mystery goes both ways, doesn’t it?


Om. Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.


Be Alert! Be Alive! Be Aglow!