The Year of All Things Literary!

4 11 2019

Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.
—Jim Tully

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Spoiler Alert! This is a long post, but worth the read. This is what happens when you don’t do any writing of substance for several months.

This year’s Resolution #3: Write, has been a journey of starts, fits, and fizzles. For various reasons, I have not found a new groove or rhythm. The extent of my literary life has been hosting Literary Los Angeles events, supporting friends in their endeavors, and an occasional blog post, the last one commemorating my birthday in August. With only one more month of 2019 left, I feel as though I could have done better, but I am also not beating myself up about it. Having patience with myself, doing things to keep massaging the writing in one form or another, acknowledging that despite the discouragement, it is in the blood and I have to keep trying. These are baby steps I have been employing in this period of malaise.

I actually finished reading two books so far; a far cry from the 11 I wanted to have read by this point, but better than I’ve done in many years. I used to be a voracious reader, and somewhere, along with the writing, that voracity diminished. Not sure if I will get it back in full, but I do expect to finish reading four books before the end of the year—and reading does wonders to fuel the writing!

My Literary Los Angeles events have been the highlight of my year! Originally published in May of 2018, the CurbedLA blog post of places favored by Los Angeles writers was the inspiration to hosting these events. So, I have gathered as many writer friends as I could over the past 10 months to inhabit these haunts over drinks, dinner, or just a day trippin’ tour!

My first excursion was in January, with my dear friend Laura Rebecca at Langer’s Delicatessen and Restaurant. Despite the city’s reputation of the young, hip, and new, L.A. has lots of historic haunts, and Langer’s, open since 1947, is one of them.

Nora Ephron is one of my favorite writers. She loved Langer’s pastrami sandwich, and even wrote a New Yorker piece about it called “A Sandwich”. I had to see if it was worth the buzz (and the price). I must say, it did not disappoint.

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Hanging with my girl Laura Rebecca, a fellow scribe and Yogi at Langer’s Deli.

Later that month, fellow writer and entrepreneur Cheryl Leutjen joined me on a tour of Joan Didion‘s old house, which is now the Shumei Hollywood Center. Thanks to the docent Annie, I learned a lot more about Joan Didion, and about how the Shumei Center’s work. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the gardens were blooming and beautiful. The landscaper Junzo told us the story of how he had to pull up the tennis court that was there previously and break up the fallow ground so it could receive water and seed. He also told us his vision for a water tower and some outdoor seating for events. Cheryl was happy to find a potential location for her Natural Muse writing group–win-win! The Center offers some cool classes, so whether it is for one of those, or for the Natural Muse meetup, we will definitely plan to return.

February’s Literary Los Angeles excursion was to the Beverly Hills Hotel, with dear friends and fellow writers Sharon Goldstein, Gail Upp, Matthew Shaffer, and Jeff Payton.

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From left to right: Jeff Payton, yours truly, Matthew Shaffer, Gail Upp, and Sharon Goldstein

The Beverly Hills Hotel oozes with urbane charm, glitz, and storied history. Along with the usual Hollywood celebrities, the iconic hotel often hosted writers such as Fran Leibowitz, Gore Vidal, Eve Babitz, and Brett Easton Ellis.

The Polo Lounge used to be a classic bar, but it had recently been remodeled to a restaurant with a small bar. Our plan was to just hang out at the bar, since a sit-down brunch is $95.00 per person—ain’t nobody got time for that.

Who knew it would be a Sunday of torrential rain, combined with the fact that it was Grammy Sunday; so the place was packed to the rafters. Thankfully the hostess took pity on Sharon, who literally needed to eat for her health, and she got us seated at a cocktail table near the bar.While drinks and appetizers were by no means cheap, it didn’t require the taking out of a small loan that brunch would have. I nibbled on some rare sliders which were quite good, Matthew and Jeff had Polo Garden Gimlets, Sharon had Chips, Salsa, and Guacamole, and Gail had Lox over Gluten free bread, with a spot of caviar. We had some great conversation about movies (we do live in L.A., after all), relationships and weddings, our writing ideas, church music and faith, while watching the well-heeled and the Hollywood elite wend throughout the renowned bar with their various comings and goings.

It was such a hit that we decided we must do it again. Musso & Frank was next on the Literary Los Angeles list, so the plan was to pinch all our pennies and make reservations for sometime in April, after Easter. While not as pricey as the Beverly Hills Hotel, it does require some budgeting—either that, or some sweet advances from book deals—the latter would have been nice….

I was the one who screwed the pooch with the planning. We all had Easter Monday set on our schedules: unfortunately I failed to check the website to see whether Musso & Frank was even open on Monday. It. Was. Not. Womp-Wah. So, we kept the date, but changed the venue to the next place on the list: The Frolic Room!

While Matthew and Jeff could not make it, Sharon, Gail, Laura, and this time Joe (Sharon’s husband and multi-hyphenate: one of them being writer) was able to come along.

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Doing what one does best in the Frolic Room: Drink, and frolic!

The Frolic Room was the regular watering hole of writer Charles Bukowski in the 1970s, while he was cranking out some of his seminal works, Post Office, and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.

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It started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy in the 1930s. Once Prohibition was repealed, it became a legit bar. In the 1940s, along with the Pantages Theater next door, it was owned by Howard Hughes until 1954. Many stars bellied up to the bar, including Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. It is also infamous for being the last place Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) was seen alive before her gruesome murder in 1947.

While every bar in Los Angeles and the surrounding environs seems to be turning into a Gastropub (Lord, spare us from hipsters), The Frolic Room has maintained its divey vibe, and the five of us were happy to drink it in along with Coke, Gin and Tonic, Bloody Mary, and a Martini, while trying to name all the golden-age celebrities in the Al Hirschfeld mural that lines the wall across from the bar.

It turned out to be a busy Summer for all of us, so Musso & Frank would wait a while longer. In the meantime, I celebrated my friend Cheryl Leutjen and her Nautilus award-winning non-fiction book Love Earth Now at a book signing at Zweet Cafe in Eagle Rock, where Cheryl penned a lot of the book! Cheryl read some excerpts from the book, along with fellow author Dr. Davina Kotulski, who she met during one of those Zweet writing jags.

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I think a regular weekly visit to a coffee shop might do me some good in establishing a rhythm; but I haven’t found a haunt in Pasadena that I absolutely adore. Time to start looking, I guess.

I was asked in July to be the guest on a podcast! Lori Bisser, a fellow Yoga instructor and graduate of the New Day Yoga 300-Hour training program from which I also graduated, asked me to share my story of gratitude on her podcast appropriately titled “Gratitude Sandwich”. Whenever she launches it, that will be a link I plan to promote. While not writing, it is storytelling, so it counts toward the writer’s life, and the drive towards word creation.

Musso & Frank finally happened toward the end of August. Matthew was wrapped up in his dance competition tour and also on the cusp of his second book release, Dancing Out of the Closet, so he and Jeff could not join us. It was up to the core fabulous five to eat some old school food in old Hollywood, and boy, did we!

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It was good timing, as Musso & Frank is celebrating 100 years in Hollywood! Very few restaurants in Los Angeles hold that distinction; long-standing restaurants in L.A. are about as ephemeral as a three-book publishing deal.

Opened in 1919 by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet, Musso & Frank hired French chef Jean Rue to design the menu. Rue would not only launch the kitchen, but would hold it down for 53 years! In 1927, the name partners sold the restaurant to two Italian immigrants named John Mosso and Joseph Carrissimi, and the restaurant is still mostly family owned: Mark Echeverria, the COO, CFO and current proprietor of Musso & Frank happens to be John Mosso’s great-grandson. Talk about a Hollywood story!

From the leather menus, to the dark wood, to the black and white photos of executives, business men, guys and dolls enjoying a martini and a cigar, Musso & Frank has legend dripping from its walls, and wafting through its doors. I had one of their classic Martinis (apparently the best in Los Angeles), along with some exquisitely prepared rare lamb chops. Gail had sweet meats with Brussel sprouts—a dish (the sweetmeats) that is hard to find anywhere. After dinner, even I wanted to break out a cigar or cigarette, and I don’t smoke either one! It was like stepping back to a time where food and atmosphere were a package deal, and your dinner was not only splendidly presented, but prepared with flavor, finesse, and substance. An other-worldly experience that was well worth the price tag.

My annual trek to Chicago for the Columbia College Chicago Alumni Board retreat was in September. I came into town earlier in the week than usual, because we were cutting the ribbon on the college’s first-ever Student Center, so two days of events were planned ahead of the weekend board activities. One was a VIP reception for the Board, Trustees, and donors to the Center. The second was the grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting, which was quite the treat!

What was even more of a treat was running into two writing mentors: Randall Albers, one of my instructors who helped to shepherd me toward graduate school. And Gary Johnson, who took me through the ropes of editing my first fiction piece toward publication in Columbia College’s Fiction Anthology, Hairtrigger 9 & 10. Both men remembered me, which was an honor, and Gary remembered my fiction piece “The Foot” a parody of Nikolai Golgov’s “The Nose” with great detail—the man has an incredible brain! Gary was hosting the Writer’s Room at the Student Center Grand Opening, where his most accomplished fiction students were reading from their original works. It brought back so many memories of years of writing classes, diving into the story workshop method of sitting in a circle, closing my eyes, and listening out into the street… Sense experiences that then were poured onto the page, and ultimately transformed into unique stories. As the students read their work aloud, the visceral, rhythmic flow of words poured over me like a warm blanket. It took me back to a time when I was on the edge of my seat both in my listening and in my writing, and made me hungry to get back there.

I was able to talk to Randy briefly, and he encouraged me to find a workshop that would allow me to delve deeply again. Another voyage of exploration along with that coffee shop in which to write.

Friday was the first CAAN Board event, a meet-and-greet at the home of one of the faculty couples. I engaged in conversation with the husband Jason Stephens, associate professor of instruction in the Business and Entrepreneur program. I related my joy in re-discovering the life and vibrancy of the story workshop method and the prescient fluidity it produced in the student’s writing. This led to brainstorming about using writing faculty or students to help the data and marketing students learn to tell stories with their numbers and information, and a light bulb went off for Jason on this potential new building block to help his students view their information in a different way.

Long story short, Jason invited me to speak to his data analytics class about storytelling! When an alumni addresses a class, it is called a “Master Class”, so it was a privilege to be asked to do so, and a new experience for me talking about the elements involved in creating a story, and how one might apply it to data information. Another opportunity to use my gift and knowledge of wordsmithing to address a different medium!

The icing on the cake of my Chicago trip was visiting the American Writer’s Museum on the Magnificent Mile. The interactive space opened in 2017, and it was a lovely afternoon spent reading about some of my favorite authors, finding information I did not know about others, and playing interactive games with their words, getting reacquainted with a typewriter, and generally having a good time soaking up the literary vibe of the place.

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I couldn’t leave without swag, so along with some free bookmarks that had a particular writer, a quote from his or her work, and the address to their museum or historical society, I nabbed a magnet that says simply, “Write On”, and a great mug with quotes from one of my writing inspirations: Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.

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Finally, I ended the month of October at a book presentation and signing for my friend Andrea Wilson Woods’ medical memoir, Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, about her 15-year old sister Adrienne Wilson’s battle with liver cancer.

I trekked out to Pomona to a really cool bookstore called Cafe con Libros (where are these places closer?! Sigh…), where Andrea read a chapter from the book, and spearheaded a meaty discussion on why a great story always trumps bad writing, the difference between a memoir and a biography, why having a platform is essential for any writer, what social media platforms are best, and how to balance privacy of others but remain truthful about facts.

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November 1, 2019 Cafe con Libros: Book presentation and signing for “Better Off Bald”-Andrea Wilson Woods

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Andrea now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, so this was the tail end of her annual visit back to Los Angeles to visit her sister Adrienne’s grave, and make some connections for her non-profit and advocacy organizations, Blue Faery, and Cancer U. We spent some good time together on Monday at a Yoga class and over lunch, and she was flying out early the next day; so this was just another opportunity to support a friend in their success in not only getting the words on the page, but getting them published and recognized! The book is doing quite well, and getting rave reviews. Buy it!

November has only just begun, but it is already packed. Gail is encouraging me to do one more Literary Los Angeles event, perhaps Chateau Marmont or Clifton’s Cafeteria. I can also spend the remaining two months of 2019 finding that coffee shop and scoping out a writing workshop in order to establish a rhythm that will get me writing more regularly. So I guess resolution #3, while not resulting in copious words on the page, served to keep the literary fires stoked on different fronts so the words can be forged and poured forth at the proper time.

To rephrase Descartes, “I write, therefore I am.”





53 and Me

3 08 2019

 

 

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God[…]”
— Ecclesiastes 2:24 ESV

Yesterday, I officially turned the page on another year. Goodbye 52, Hello 53. Two thoughts come to mind these days as I approach a birthday: 1) I never envisioned what life would be like past 30; and 2) I have outlived three sisters. Both thoughts are shrouded with a sense of mystery, and a sense of weight. Embracing the unknown coupled with a embracing the present moment.

I am finding life past 30 full of wonder, surprise, and contentment. I am spending it with a wonderful man who is the love of my life, I am finally doing work that I love, and I am the most comfortable I have ever been in my own skin. After spending most of my young adulthood feeling like a fish out of water, fighting for recognition, and doing work that I hated, it’s a good place to be.

The outliving sisters still brings a rush of sadness, because on birthdays, and really every day, they were my biggest fans and some of my greatest sources of fun. Not to mention the lost history and connection from the people who have seen the progression up close and personal from Day One. But they, more than anyone, would encourage me to walk in Solomon’s shoes: eat, drink, embrace, and enjoy; it is a gift from God, and when the gift is gone… that’s it.

Embracing the present moment means I milk every moment of the “known”, so I did just that for my born day. I am working a contract job with Yoga Alliance right now, but generally I do the least hours on Friday. So I offloaded the bulk of my work into the days prior, so that I could have the actual Friday of my birthday mostly free.

After getting my tootsies done, I invited my lady tribe of girlfriends and Yogis to come paint with me at Color Me Mine. It was a fun time of conversation, coffee, and connecting with my inner child and creative genius. I evoked my spirit insect, the Lady Bug, and painted her on a chip and dip bowl in homage to my love of food. It was a perfect, low-key, and sunny afternoon spent in conversation and laughter, and I could not have asked for anything better.

 

 

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That evening, I invited friends to Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, to enjoy one of my favorite foods: Dumplings. I was blessed and delighted to have 15 friends trek from various parts of Los Angeles on a Friday night to spend the evening with me! The wait was exorbitantly long (they claimed an hour and a half, it ended up being over two), but the freshly made dumplings, different flavors, and great connection with all my friends made up for it.

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Embracing the unknown is often harder, because as I am all too aware, life can turn on a dime. Loss of loved ones, loss of homes, loss of social station has been sobering, if not demoralizing. Yet the mystery of embracing the intangible, and holding the tangible loosely, is what brings peace and contentment. My word for the year has been “wisdom”, so over the past 8 months, I have done lots of reading and re-reading of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. “For wisdom is protection just as money is protection. But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.” Ecclesiastes 7:12 NASB

So while I cannot control all the things of life, or even control when sudden tragedy might happen, I can preserve the life I do have by embracing wisdom with as much gusto as I embrace the present moment. The beauty of embrace is that it requires you to let go of one thing, in order to latch on to something else. To embrace requires you let go of fear, insecurity, and your typical protections. Embrace means you take something (or someone) to your heart and hold it (them) close. It’s vulnerability, it’s exposure, it’s trust; but it’s the only way to live in the moment and live in the mystery.

Another year, another opportunity to live in the balance.

 

 





New Year’s Resolution #3: Write

1 03 2019

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
— Henry David Thoreau

This particular post also covers two other resolutions: to tap into community (#2), and to move more (#4, to come).

I am a member of a Natural Muse writers group run by my friend Cheryl Leutjen. Unfortunately over the past two years, I have not been very active—if you’ve followed this blog for any stretch of time, I don’t have to reiterate why.

The goal of the group is very John Muirish: we find places in nature to inspire us so we will write! Great idea, but not always doable for me as they meet during the week.

Fridays are my off day, so I have flex in my day to include such excursions. Dependent upon Cheryl’s writing and speaking schedule, she on occasion has Friday sessions; so I jumped on the opportunity to not only connect with my friend, but get my body moving in a different way, and enjoy the gorgeous post-rain weather.

The first Friday Natural Muse excursion was to Amir’s Garden on February 3rd. It was just a few days after some incredible rains, so the views were spectacular. You could see all the way to Downtown L.A. from one direction, and all the way to Century City and the Westside from the other.

After two years of letting writing fall to the wayside, I decided 2019 was the year to get serious, even if it is just blog posts. Sometimes the nature of my life is a cliffhanger, and people seem to respond to personal experiences; so may as well share while strengthening my writing muscles.

Amir’s Garden is a picnic area off the hiking trails in Griffith Park, cultivated over 40 years ago by Amir Dialameh. In the early 1970s, Amir was inspired to landscape the garden after a brush fire burned a solid portion of the hills. Amir often hiked in the hills along the Mineral Wells trail by the Los Angeles Zoo. He wanted to bring beauty to the now barren landscape, so he hauled plants, pick axe, and shovel up the trail, and began cultivating a garden. Amir worked as a wine salesman in the evening, so he had the days for this labor of love—and it definitely was. He cleared tree stumps, built a retaining wall with discarded fencing, terraced slopes, and built stairs to a created a picnic area with benches.

With little help from the city (what else is new?) Amir planted drought tolerant plants that provided shade, such as pine and jacaranda trees. He also planted trees and shrubs that provided vibrant color such as roses, geraniums, and yucca. Some of the trees that Amir hauled up the trail over 30 years ago are now sixty feet tall.

As knowledge of his endeavors grew, Amir received donations of plants, maintenance items, and irrigation equipment; but he never took money, and never asked for help. People just wanted to be a part of maintaining the garden that he created. In the late 1970s, volunteers began to come and help Amir further cultivate and maintain the grounds, and so it is to this day. Amir Dialameh died in 2003, leaving behind the legacy of a beautiful space for our inspiration and enjoyment.

His story and dedication speaks to an unwavering commitment, and the ability to create beauty from ashes. When it comes to my writing and other creative areas it often feels like that is all I do. So many times I thought I was on a trajectory to success, only to see it go down in flames. Brush fires in the 1990s again destroyed parts of Griffith Park and Amir’s Garden, but Amir rebuilt and continued on. His labor of love is a fine example of perseverance and belief in one’s vision. I have had the vision of being a successful, published, and working writer since I was 10 years old. That’s 42 years of my life dedicated to honing my craft, with fits and starts in between. Maybe one day after I am long gone, someone will be able to enjoy the legacy I hope to leave behind. I just have to keep building it.

Today, we had another Friday Natural Muse at Arlington Gardens in Pasadena. It was just me and Cheryl this time, and the day could not have been more different: Cool and overcast, with steely skies that signaled we have some rain coming our way.

The story behind this natural landscape could not be more different. Arlington Gardens was started two years after Amir Dialameh’s, by philanthropists Betty and Charles McKenney, and designer, Mayita Dinos. Their goal was to create a public, water-wise garden that celebrates Southern California’s Mediterranean climate. The garden demonstrates how beautiful and practical a well-planned, water-conserving and climate-appropriate garden can be.

Fourteen years later, the park is maintained by the city of Pasadena and the Department of Public Works. No labor of love, and definitely less inspirational, but still a beautiful spot to get some fresh air, physical movement, and get the creative juices flowing. Both Cheryl and I were in awe of the number of butterflies and hummingbirds that populated the garden, and flitted from tree to shrub with abandon. We also were amazed that Bamboo actually flowered—who knew?!

Like the other resolutions, I am making small, but consistent steps. Three months of regular blog posts is better than nothing, and I am in the throes of outlining a new narrative non-fiction book. Like Amir and his garden, I am rebuilding my writing life one tree and plant at a time.





New Year’s Resolution #2: Root into Community

11 02 2019

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.

“Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” — Proverbs 27:9-10

I have friends far and wide, whom I love, but miss terribly. While I have always tried to tap into local community, because of our topsy-turvy lives, we have had to change communities and restart more often than I would like. I must admit, the older I get, the harder it becomes to do that. But it is necessary for survival, well being, and to feel connected to the place where you live.

So my second Resolution this year is to root into community. I am grateful that one of my Yoga community members is also a part of my local community in Northeast Pasadena. Tanya is a fellow CorePower instructor who lives less than two miles from us.

She and her husband JB blessed us with our stove, and we have had opportunity to break bread with them at their lovely, earthy place. She even popped over to bring me some of the beautiful antique roses from her garden!20190102_111315.jpg

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Knowing that we have not only a great neighbor, but a great Yogi nearby helps in my ability to take root and feel comfortable. We have plans in the works to get drinks after class soon.

Sammy and Hermione are lifelong friends, and Hermione and I have been accountability partners for well over 20 years. While they are not close-by community, they are nearer than some of our other lifelong friends; so we try to make a point to get together with them and their son Jaxin. We launched the year at a fun event in our neck of the woods: The Moonlight Forest Lantern Festival at the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia.

It was a magical night of walking around in 40 degree weather (haven’t done that since Chicago), and admiring Japanese lantern displays that represented nature, California culture, and Japanese history.

And I am really loving our local community in terms of food. I found The Barn, a late night Asian fusion eatery on Yelp. So after a crisp night walking and admiring the creativity and artistry, we were all happy as clams to sit someplace warm and fill our bellies! Sammy and Hermione are food adventurous, so they had a great Seafood Hot Pot, Fried Chicken, Chicken Hearts, and some Sauteed Green Beans, along with some Fried Rice, and French Fries.

20190104_224039.jpgMy “Mr. Orange Chicken” husband had some Chinese Sausage and Fried Rice, and some of my Pork Belly. Along with the Pork Belly, I had Chicken Gizzards, and a Lamb, Glass Noodle, and Vegetable Hot Pot which was so divine! Lynn even had a little bit of that. 

I also smashed some Pork Intestines wrapped in Asparagus and Chicken Cartilage—it’s a Southern and a foodie thing—don’t judge me!

Washed down with a delicious hot Matcha, it all made for a moveable feast with our delightful friends.

Another nearby neighbor is from our Montrose Church community, and she lives less than a mile away. If I had been feeling particularly ambitious, I could have easily walked to her house. Instead, I drove (so L.A. of me!), but the purpose was to take a walk. Candice has a 4-year old, a 9-month old, and a 6-month old, but chasing Littles is not that much exercise. So we made plans to walk for 30 minutes.

Candice packed Declan and Tara, her toddlers, into a stroller, and four-year-old Seamus was on his bike with training wheels, and we were ready to tool around the neighborhood.

It was good to connect outside of 5 minutes before service, and it gave this childless woman a chance to love on and enjoy some babies, which I need every once in a while. With the torrential rains this past week, our plans for last Monday were derailed, but we hope to do it again when the weather and schedules allow.

So, it’s a good start to the resolutions, and a good start in deepening roots. I am amazed that in one month, we will have lived in Pasadena for a year. Our circumstances are always precarious, so we don’t know the time frame for how long we’ll stay in this particular community; but while we are here, we’ll work at blooming where we’re planted. 

 

 





Christmas 2018: Dispelling the Shadows

24 12 2018

 

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“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor the Way to the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.[…]

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.”

Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7

“Distress”, and “The shadow of Death” have been constants this year. It’s been a pivotal and life-changing year on a number of levels, with some great blessings and opportunities. But I am quite confident that part of the busyness and rush has been God’s way of buoying me up from distress, and helping me to navigate the shadow.

Things slowed down a week ago, right around the one-year anniversary of my sister Joan’s death, and the emotional distress fell heavy, while Death’s shadow grew more looming. My late Uncle Charles said it well, “Death always comes as a stranger,” and it is true. No way to prepare for it, and it is never familiar, but an intrusive presence that always appears at the wrong time.

Which is why this Christmas season has been the hardest in a number of years, and each moment has been a choice to embrace the Christ child afresh. At a Christmas concert I attended on Saturday, the pastor’s words were very profound. He pointed out how messy and imperfect the actual Nativity was. Full of difficult journeys, imminent danger, stench (a stable—yes), and great inconvenience. 

From Isaiah’s prophecy to Zechariah’s song, the darkness, distress, and shadow of Death is never glossed over or minimized. What is maximized is the Light that has come because Christ is born. That Light which transforms the darkness, and dispels every shadow. So from the bright lights of my Christmas tree, to the brightness of friends and family, I turn my eyes and embrace the Light, embrace the promise of Hope, embrace what is, and cling to what is good. 

God is good, and he has shown his goodness, and his zeal to bring Light into our darkness, and be with us no matter what our state, in the promise of the Christ child. Each season, and especially each Christmas season, gives us opportunity to embrace and allow the Light to shine on us.

[B]ecause of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will visit us from on high, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

 

 





All the Things…

28 02 2018

“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”
– Josiah Gilbert Holland

Ain’t it the truth, Josiah. Last week and this week have been crammed full of all the things, in a good way. I have the privilege of leading another Teacher Training with CorePower Yoga Pasadena, and my team of coaches and our faithful instructors has recruited a really awesome group of Yogis that are diverse, mature, and hungry to give and receive knowledge. We are heading into Week 2, and I am so looking forward to what I will learn from them, while presenting all that I know (sometimes, not much!)

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We are also moving. Moving is an evil word for me. Since leaving my childhood home at 19, I have probably moved about 40 times in my 51 years. Various circumstances: finances, bad roommate situations, roommates getting married or moving, the list goes on. My heart has always longed to settle and lay down roots in one place, and I thought with my marriage in 2007 and actually buying a house, that I was finally at that place where I wouldn’t have to move again for a long time.

As John Lennon said, Life is what happens when you’re making plans. Suffice to say, we lost that house, and ended up moving two times before being plopped in Atwater Village in 2011. The actual city of Los Angeles was the last place we thought we would find ourselves, and we both assumed it was a “make do” place, just a place where we could—hopefully quickly—get back on our feet.

Quickly didn’t happen. We have been here almost 7 years; but despite the hardships, fits and starts, and living among boxes and toxicity (a blog post for another day), something was being built. We loved the new Northeast Los Angeles community and all the fun haunts, events, and eating places that made this city seem less plastic and more human and community-oriented. We found a wonderful new church where we could get to know others more regularly and let them get to know us. Thanks to CorePower Yoga opening a studio in Pasadena, I found a location close to home where I didn’t have to hop a freeway to practice Yoga or to teach. So lots of wins in the midst of what was a hard season of waiting and testing.

So now, we get to move again. Another place where we never saw ourselves: the city of Pasadena! Our address is on Wesley; named after the theologian Charles Wesley, but also the name of one of my favorite nephews—so that’s a good sign.

We are further east from all that we have known in the past, but still close to some of the things that we hold dear: our church, my work, and new adventures in a new community.  It is a place of blessing, from the way it was delivered to us, to the favor we have received from the landlord, to our church communities and friends rallying around to help us in a multitude of ways, financial and physical.

It is a place that we can hopefully settle for a spell. I have no idea how long that spell will be—I learned to stop putting time frames on things after the horrors of 2008-2011. But what is true, and what I can count on, is that it is a place of space (two bedrooms and storage–whoo hoo!); a place of ease (4 miles to my Yoga studio, less than 2 blocks from the Pasadena campus of our church); and a place where we can find peace and quiet in our surroundings, yet still have the hum of community, events, and some city amenities. In the two weeks that we have been packing and moving, I am quickly falling in love with Hastings Ranch, since we’ve spent so much time there finding the things we need for the new home, as well as some of our favorite casual dining haunts.

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What I am enjoying now as we move boxes, paint the new house, and close out the old, is this view. The San Gabriel mountains are right at my backyard. My friend Joyce wrote on her Facebook page: “The mountains can teach us so much about our lives, our faith, ourselves. Think on what you’ve learned from your mountain adventures and feel free to share. Ready? Go!”

I replied to her post, not about a mountain adventure, but a mountain focus from Psalm 121-1-4:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

There are no coincidences in our lives. The fact that I have a mountain view is part and parcel of God’s reminder for me to continue to look to him for help. It is also a comfort that he will keep our footing in this new territory and watch over us here, no matter how long or short the spell will last.

We still have some odds and ends and large furniture to move, and I am knackered beyond belief. Week 2 of Teacher Training begins today, so I am still on and working hard to ensure these great Yogis are set up for success. But I am grateful for God’s hand in all the things; and that despite my desire for speed and efficiency, he is building something more enduring than I could imagine.





Love and Lent

15 02 2018

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Go in Peace.”

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Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It was curious to have Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday happen in the same frame, but apropos, since the greatest gift of love was Christ’s road to suffering, which commences with Ash Wednesday.

Husband is neither a romantic nor a planner, so this day passes by like any other. I taught my two Yoga classes at CorePower Sherman Oaks, and did my own body love and maintenance by taking a special “Love” themed class featuring Beatles music at CorePower Pasadena. Sweet Brit, the assistant studio manager at Pasadena ably led the class, and sang a beautiful rendition of “Let it Be” while we were in Savasana. I got a rose and some delicious juice treats from KoJuice. The rose is stunning, and blooming happily on my kitchen table.

Then the husband and I attended Ash Wednesday service at the Montrose Church Pasadena-Bresee campus, and received our imposition of ashes. I never feel as though I am very focused during this season because life always seems to be whooshing by at a pace that doesn’t seem to encourage stillness and reflection. I am gearing up to lead another Teacher Training in a week, and we are also moving (finally) to a new home at the end of the month. Sad to say, I feel divided, and consumed with everything else but Lent.

Which is why I love the devotionals I get from Rick Savage, one of the care pastors at Montrose Church. Starting with Ash Wednesday and going through Easter, each day gives a minute focus for the day, and a global focus for the season in bite-sized portions to which I can commit. I figure this Lent I can work on taking on a more spiritual focus rather than giving up something tangible; so I’m committing to more time with devotionals, and more time in the word. Believe it or not, I am a horrible devotional person. People give them to me as gifts, I start one, and after a couple of months, never pick it up again. It’s a rhythm that has never stuck well; so I figure it is a worthy goal in which to commit to help me to turn inward and delve more deeply.

Pastor Rick’s Ash Wednesday’s devotional encouraged that the path of Lent is a journey inward, and turning our eye and ear to what God is doing is pivotal to being a part of it.

  “What shall we do on the journey? “Blow the trumpet in Zion.” Stir up the ranks. Get the good word out. God is on the move. The times, for now, might be difficult, but these times are in the hands of God. “Rend your heart” so that you will be in tune with what God is doing.”

Today’s devotional, addressed my feelings or overwhelm and chaos, even with just simply doing my job and maintaining life.

“We live in a noisy world. Lent is a gift to us in that noise. (emphasis mine) Perhaps that’s why God said in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Every follower of Jesus is helped when they find a way, in the noise, to “Be still” and draw near to God. Lent is set apart each year for a purposeful being still, quieting our hearts in the busyness, and listening to the Spirit of God speak into our lives…

“We may not be able to stop the noise but we can come to Jesus. We can listen to the Spirit and have our hearts cleared of clutter, and learn again the ways and paths of God.”

Listen and learn. Makes it seem less difficult than this season sometimes appears; makes me feel less guilty about my own inability to jump into the season with both feet. It’s okay to dip a toe, or wade, as long as I come to the water consistently and get wet.

Along with the Lenten devotionals, I was also invited by an online friend on the Bible app to do a 31-day devotional on Wisdom, taken from the book of Proverbs. Accountability is a good motivator for me to stay consistent, along with the fact that it’s nice to be chosen to be included in something. So I accepted, and dipped in.

Today’s devotional talked about the teammates of Wisdom: Love, Faith, and Trust. I was struck by how it expressed Love’s role in partnering with Wisdom.

“Love gives wisdom a playground in which to play – because honestly if we have no love for God, why would we listen to His wisdom?”








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