words of wisdom

The Story Behind Skyla

“Become the sky. Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

- Rumi

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I already had the name Skyla on my list. I knew I loved it. And obviously I have a thing for the sky (hence my blog name). But the task of naming a child does not produce immediate answers, at least not for me.

When I saw this quote on Instagram from heathercooperloves, which was a re-gram from adonnrowley, I took a screenshot. Every time I came back to it, I got tingly.

We don’t have to conform to standards or fit into boxes or worry about the outcome. We are here to do things that make us feel  good. We are here to enjoy the rainbows, bask in the sunshine, bathe in the ocean, gaze at the stars. We are here to cry in the rain and listen to the clouds and cling to one another in the storm.

We don’t have to take this life so seriously. Failure is a myth, the prison walls are made of fear. We can fall and get up as many times as we want. We can fly without crashing. We need not hold back or be afraid or stifle our truest, wildest, happiest dreams.

I hope I can teach my beautiful biracial daughters to live like this.

I want them to push against the boundaries built by modern society. I want them to break through the glass ceilings and make their own joy. I want them to create anything and everything they want. I want them to follow their hearts and believe in themselves, because we are all as big as the sky.

Just as we chose Giovanna because “God is gracious,” we chose Skyla to remember that we are limitless potential, bound by limitless love.

Free Your Words

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She told us.

free your words. every. day.

I wrote it on a note and taped it to the window above my desk.

I sit here as often as I can, stealing away from the rest of my life to write words. Words that become stories that become novels, sometimes essays, sometimes articles. Variety is the spice, but for me, fiction is the sugar. Writing fiction brightens my interior self like fresh snow coating the earth. A prism of luminosity. Writing fiction fills an otherwise unreachable crevice of my mind. Writing fiction is, at once, the hardest and most doable thing in the world.

Writing is hard because I must do it alone. Artists need solitude. Quiet to hear the echo of emotion. Privacy to create something out of nothing. The words won’t come unless they are called. Like shy girls waiting for the boys to ask. When I write fiction, I am at once the asker and the asked. The seeker and the sought. I can handle humanity, turning it over and over and over again, memorizing all sides like an archaeologist examines a relic. And still, the rock gives only hints of its history. Little by little by little.

Writing is the most doable thing in the world because I have to do it. How else can I explain this? I started my first journal when I was six years-old. Writing is a natural and necessary form of expression for me, for many of us. If I don’t write, I am missing out on myself, on the potential of my unique human experience. The words sound like noise when they’re crowded in my mind, elbowing one another to the finish line.

But there is no finish line for my words. There is only freedom. Sometimes I forget.

When I hit a wall while writing and I start searching for distractions, I see that note and I remember.

free your words

I don’t have time to waste. My time at this desk is limited indeed. This is my chance.

What lives inside of you that needs to be freed? 

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A Celebration of Life

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“This much I know. I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness. No matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, that itself creates new potential. I’ve learned from the Bhagavad-Gita and other teachings of our culture to detach myself from the results of what I do. Because those are not in my hands. The context is not in your control. But your commitment is yours to make. And you can make the deepest commitment with a total detachment from where it will take you. You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them but then you have detachment. That combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge. Because I don’t cripple myself. I don’t get myself in knots. I function like a free being. I think getting that freedom is a social duty. Because I think we owe it to each [other] not to burden one another with prescription and demands. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.” – Vandana Shiva

A good friend posted this soliloquy on Instagram. I read it despite the fine and copious print because I knew she shared it for a reason. I re-grammed immediately and continue to re-read it. I even transcribed above in hopes of the wisdom sinking in a little deeper.

I don’t get myself in knots, he says.

I do. Especially when it comes to my family. Giovanna has thrown some tricky curve balls at me lately. Begging for “presents” when we run errands, for sweets when we have them, for a ride in my arms, sitting above the bump for just a little while longer.

I can’t walk, she says. Pick me up, mama. Carry me.

In one month exactly, she turns four. In two months, her little sister is due to make her grand entrance into this dimension. I know Gigi understands more than she lets on. I know everything will change about our family dynamic. She knows it, too.

I dig deep for compassion and empathy and most of all patience. Usually I deal with transgressions and move on. But sometimes, I get myself in knots. Like yesterday after too many spontaneous tantrums and a long afternoon at the Nutcracker followed by hideous traffic.

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I suppose I expected too much. The picture says it all. My forced smile, her pouty face. I’m holding her because it’s the only way.

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This picture, however, seems to tell a different story. A mother and daughter spending the afternoon at the ballet (courtesy of Trophy Cupcakes, no less). What privilege. What luck.

Things aren’t always as they seem.

Our photo-bombers, the mother and daughter behind us, were having a similar day. Sweetness sprinkled atop something hard to swallow.

As mothers we have a hard time separating our children from ourselves. We were once physically attached, our hearts inextricably overlapped. But we can overlap without being tangled. We don’t need knots. Knots cut off the circulation.

The context is not in your control. But your commitment is yours to make.

I can’t control my daughter’s moods and emotions. I control nothing but myself.

Either I can write, or I can wish I was writing.

Either I can actively grow my business, or I can remain comfortable and stagnant.

That combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge.

I sit down, day after day, to write. Unveiling stories inch by inch. No matter the length or the quality or the numerous distractions to which I succumb, I feel better when I’ve written that day. As if every thought composed helps to make more sense of this existence that I don’t understand. I am hungry to learn about it and from it and for it.

There are things I feel compelled to write about. Truths, both perverse and pure, that I love to share and explore and discuss using the vehicle of fiction.

As for the tea. Why do I run a small business while writing and mothering and living? Because I must. Because these teas create a flow of micronutrients and antioxidants and healing properties into the body. Herbs are magical little plants. I am honored to act as their conduit.

You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them but then you have detachment.

I cannot know which novels will publish or how many tins of tea will sell. I cannot know how any of my dreams are going to turn out. And it’s scary sometimes and sometimes I get stuck.

I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.

This is what we’re here for. Not acclaim. Not wealth. Not perfection. But a celebration of life.

My Very Favorite Thing in NYC

The American Museum of Natural History.

I. Love. This. Place.

I could stay here for a week and change my life. I’m sure of it.

The walls pulse with awareness, knowledge, the sort of enlightenment that comes with knowing you know nothing. Though we are but specks on the spectrum of the infinite, we are also a part of it. Our ancestors crossed the plains of Africa. Our planet sustains magnificent beasts and brilliant crystals and us. We have 99.9% of the same DNA. We are exactly the same and we are completely unique.

We have lived and discovered and conquered and destroyed for many lifetimes.

Still, boundless frontiers remain unexplored.

Humans are not all that is. We are part of what is. A blip on the radar of time.

I find it empowering. Emboldened by this intricate existence, by the possibility and the mystery of it all.

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Practicing Courage

Courage.

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This rang so true in my mind. One of the truths we are here on earth to learn.

Blogging takes courage. For me, and I’d venture to say for every blogger. Posting glimpses of one’s life on the internet for the world to devour is risky. And yet we choose, by our own free will, to do it anyways. We are not celebrities nor royalty, perhaps no one cares about what we have to say.

We talk anyways.

Why? Because of the breakthroughs we get when we reflect upon our own life and the connections we make when we share these thoughts with others. We blog for feedback and for community. Above all, we blog because blogging expands our lives.

We let other people get to know pieces of us without asking for anything in return except for a subscription or a click-through or a “like.” We let people in, even when we don’t know if we want to. We do it for the love of it.

I love writing fiction most, but sometimes all I want to write about is my own life. I guess I need to get my own stuff out of the way before I can listen to my characters and decipher their stories. I could confide in my journal alone, and sometimes I do, but I keep coming back to this blog. And now I have discovered another piece of the puzzle, another reason why.

This blog teaches me to have courage. Courage to write and share my words. Even if it’s about something as ordinary as baking or personal as a pregnancy. Even if traffic doesn’t spike or someone unsubscribes. Even if I don’t quite know why I am here or how I manage to hit “publish.” Today, it’s a blog about courage. Tomorrow, it’s a novel on the shelves.

We have to start somewhere. Maybe we need to practice courage to get more of it. That’s why I’m here, so don’t think any of this is easy for me. I am practicing, growing, trying, failing, doing.

So what are you doing to practice courage? What are you doing today that scares you? 

“Try. Fail. Fail better.” ~ Samuel Beckett

Golden Birthday

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I have anticipated this day my whole life. Today, I turn 28 on the 28th of May. Today is my golden birthday. I dared not imagine where I’d be at age 28 (perhaps I could have been more daring?), but I was well aware that by this time, I would be a grown-up. And I am, and I am not. I am grown up, and I am growing up.

I am not sure how others perceive the golden birthday: trite or symbolic? Maybe most people born on the 28th grow out of it by the time they reach it. Alas, I did not. For what is life without the little things? The age of 28 holds importance because I’ve bestowed it with importance. I’ve put a diamond ring on this year and declared it exquisite.

As an adult, I find myself oft disappointed in birthdays. I expect to be dazzled by May 28th like I was in my childhood. As a mother especially, I’ve had to accept that my birthday is not all about me. Each year, I tell myself that I will not have expectations, and yet, I can’t quit them. I want my birthday to be filled with delicious treats and special treatment, expected and unexpected surprises.

Some birthdays sparkle and others echo with loneliness and isolation. But not today. This day, golden and glinting and ripe, is not planned exactly, but it is also not unplanned. In the morning, we will cart Emile off to school and Giovanna off to a half-day at preschool. James will stay home from work and we will go for a bike ride. In the afternoon, my family will come over for cake. They will sing and if my mom brings candles, I will make a wish. Along with all of the other wishes I will sprinkle through out the day.

For what are birthdays without wishes?

Today, I am 28, my favorite number, my golden year, and I feel good about it. Optimistic about what lies ahead, grateful for every moment leading up to this one. In commemoration, I will share the 28 greatest lessons I’ve learned in the past 28 years. In other words, the first 28 lessons that come to mind.

In true birthday fashion, I admit I’m doing this more for myself than anyone else. To recall and respect the principles I’ve learned and seek to master, while appreciating that I have so much more to understand, a thousand more directions in which to grow.

1. Never give up. – H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama
2. There’s no direction to move but forward.
3. No man is an island. – John Donne ( Don’t be afraid to ask for help.)
4. You’re not messing up as badly as you think you are. (The kids will be okay.)
5. There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. – Vincent Van Gogh
6. What other people think about you is none of your business.
7. Life is what you make it. – my grandmother, Lucille Litty Zaller
8. You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.
9. Do what you love. Lack of passion is fatal.
10. Life is a journey. There are no destinations.
11. When someone goes out of their way to snub you, hold your head high and remember: you can be the bigger person.
12. Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. – Albert Einstein
13. Know your weaknesses, accept them, and see that you are bigger than them.
14. Make time for your friends. Don’t make time for your non-friends.
15. Creativity is contagious. Pass it on. – Albert Einstein
16. Learn to apologize without hesitation.
17. Indulge mindfully.
18. This, too, shall pass. – Proverb
19. Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Albert Einstein
20. There are two emotions: love and fear. Allow your heart to be ruled by love, not fear.
21. Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted at all.
22. Judge not.
23. All good things are wild and free.- Henry David Thoreau
24. Money is never the bottom line.
25. The truth shall set you free. – Jesus Christ
26. Take care of yourself, or you cannot take care of others.
27. Exercise.
28. Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one. – Albert Einstein

Rainy Day Walk

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If we waited for the rain to slow, we’d miss out on a lot. And if we waited for the sun to shine, we’d miss out on even more. Staying inside only feeds the grudge against the flatness of the gray sky. I’ve found there’s no better prescription for the rainy day blues than to get out, and get wet.

Now that Giovanna is three, with crazy long legs (95th percentile for height!) and an adventurous spirit, we leave the stroller at home more and more. I let her choose our destination, or sometimes, we walk without one. We come upon hidden staircases (they’re everywhere in Seattle, just check out this blog), unwinding plants and fallen blooms. She fills my pockets with dandelions and we make wishes on dandelion ghosts. She gathers rocks and petals and lusts after tulips, which she calls rainbow flowers.

I have a deep love of taking mindful walks while observing nature, and now I have the privilege of cultivating this same love in my daughter. The simplest pleasures continue to be the most profound.

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~Khalil Gibran

Positively Creative and Creatively Positive (A Gratitude List)

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No matter how I come across on the page, I can be quite negative at times. Sure, everyone has bad days. But we shouldn’t use this as an excuse for not trying to be better today than we were yesterday.

Sometimes, I become lost in the questions without answers, drowned from a lack of patience which seems as crucial to my sanity as oxygen to the blood.

I’ve found that this variety of the blues, mild yet harmful if not contained, can be quelled by counting blessings and rolling thoughts all the way around in gratitude. Not the kind with sharp edges. (This is so great, except for that…) But the kind of consciousness that accepts the hard moments without dwelling on them, leaving room to celebrate the beautiful moments by savoring and sharing.

Today, I am grateful for:

1. Motherhood. More than anything else in my life, my children have shown me who I really am. Strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. They surprise and challenge and delight me in extraordinary ways. No matter what happens to me or who I end up becoming, I will always be a mother and a step-mother.

2. Albert Einstein. (See above.)

3. Quality health care/insurance.

4. Barre3. An exercise method combining ballet barre, yoga and pilates; Barre3 bestows the gifts of good posture, longer and stronger muscles and, most importantly, some badass endorphins.

5. Libraries. Reading, both to the children and to myself.

6. Homemade tahini salad dressing.

7. My cousin’s brand new baby boy, Shay.

8. Signs of spring. Cherry blossoms. Grocery store tulips. Girl scout cookies. Chocolate eggs.

9. The space to be creative. The wisdom to know my passions. The presence of mind to pursue them.

10. Finding the courage to catch a grocer (and myself) off-guard with a friendly smile and my business card.

11. A new family tradition for the dinner table: sharing at least one thing *good* that happened that day. As it happens, the goodness generally overflows and we end up sharing our entire days.

12. Shedding the dreaded mommy-guilt. The universe conspired to bring me this message: I don’t have to give 100% of myself to my family. I finally understand that giving too much of myself can be just as bad as not giving enough.

13. The banana-carrot-walnut muffins I created this morning. First time, no recipe, huge success. Other ingredients included almond flour, cinnamon, dates, oats, organic eggs & butter and slightly less than 1/2 cup of raw sugar. My cooking and baking disasters have evolved quickly with frequent experience and experimenting.

14. Aging. Gaining experience. Maturing. Becoming better. My golden birthday is coming up in May. I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to turn 28 on the 28th :)

15. Red wine. 

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The Perfect Painting

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Since we moved into our beloved old house, we’ve yearned for a painting to fill the big white space above our couch. We tried on a few options, such as the painting my husband received from a client who couldn’t pay, and another that I bought off the side of the road in Cambodia, beautiful but small for the space.

Instead of continuing to look, we decided to be still and wait. We loved our living room anyways, a balance of mid-century modern and colorful bohemian chic. We let go of our need to “complete” the room.

Last weekend, James and I attended the annual auction for Giovanna’s preschool, an event that provides $25,000 in scholarships. We’re in love with this school and its gentle teachers, play-based classes, diversity and community. It was like a miracle when we found it.

This painting is an extension of that miracle. Every class contributed something to the auction, benches covered in handprints and the like. Giovanna’s class  of two and three year olds created this painting. I loved it from first sight. I tried not to look at it for too long in fear of becoming attached. You could not buy this painting, you could only win it. We bought five raffle tickets for $40.

When the director drew our names, I watched her mouth form “Lu” before it came across the microphone. I couldn’t believe it. I could believe it. We took the painting home and hung it in the space that waited patiently. Sometimes, when we manage to let go of expectations, we find something better than we could have conjured with our minds. Nowhere in the world is there a painting more special, more suited to our family’s nest than a piece painted by our little girl and the classmates she loves.

And the colors just happen to be perfect.

Be still and wait. ~ T.S. Eliot

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
~ Albert Einstein

Every child is an artist. ~Pablo Picasso

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Seven Shares For The Seventh Day

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1. On my desk: The first draft of my second novel. I let it sit for so long that I forgot the twists at the end. Though it needs a lot of work, I had fun reading it, which I’ll take as a good sign. But then again, can we ever get any distance from our work?

2. On my nightstand: Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. This book is taking me longer to get through than most, though I am certainly enjoying it. I think I lost momentum while reading Anna Karenina, which I elected not to finish.

3. In my belly: Kale Salad w/Chickpeas & Tahini dressing; Gorgonzola, Shittake, Roasted Fennel sandwich (yummy); Feel the Love Tea mixed with a Chinese herbal tonic.

4. On my calendar: The annual auction that keeps the scholarship program going at Giovanna’s preschool. I donated a gift basket of Herbal Philosophy Teas, and something even more exciting:  a custom medicinal tea based on the highest bidder’s unique health challenges and taste preferences.

5. In my business: After the mention in New Beauty Spa + magazine, the orders for Feel Beautiful Tea are going up and up. I am also in the planning phase of launching the Herbal Philosophy storefront on Amazon Fresh. Thrilling, terrifying. Today, my husband and I will (hopefully) produce the photos for the storefront banner and new product shots.

6. In my head: My new blog header and categories. The idea, the craving for a change, came to me in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished it. I missed my sleep window, I stayed up entirely too late, and I woke up sick. Why, again? This place is a hobby, a creative outlet. I don’t know why I felt compelled to injure my health and my weekend with so much late night screen time and so little sleep. But that was Friday night. Last night, I slept 10 hours. The difference is absolutely striking. Our bodies need to lie still.

7. On my person: sweaty yoga pants. After all that lying still, I needed to sweat it out. Breathe deeply. A powerful Heated Vinyasa Flow Class left me dripping. With glory and joy :)

After I wrote all of this, I started thinking (again) why? Why do I like to capture my current frame of life with words? Why is it so  therapeutic? I don’t feel especially comfortable posting details about my life on the internet, even carefully selected details. But I suppose this is also the beauty of it. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “do something every day that scares you.” This scares me. Sharing the existence of my second novel with the vast unknown. But I keep doing it. Because I have to write, and sometimes, the only thing I have to write about is the inspired parts of my life.

“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
― Charlotte Brontë

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.”
― Brian Tracy

“You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them.”
― Albert Camus