Sunday, February 27, 2011

Still Looking

The ocean touches all of my five senses. Waves offer stereophonic stimulus. It surrounds me as I watch. It is vast.

The air becomes full of the salty smell of fish playing in their liquid world. It’s cold there. As the last layers of waves cover my toes I feel the contrast of its coldness with the warmth of the sun’s blanket.

I’m noticing how I seek out nature just to have a sense of calm. On the coast of southern California nature seems to be a little bit contrived. Coming from Arizona where the landscape is God’s creation, here it seems manipulated by human hands. Even beautiful gardens developed against the backdrop of the natural waters of the Pacific Ocean are intentionally planted to play with the blending of the sky and the sea.

The Yoganunda Ashram in Encinitas is a place for meditation and pause. We stop in the town for lunch and spend the afternoon. As I sit, I watch the water carefully and I become aware of my surroundings once again. People whisper with each other as they meander through the gardens.

I am left with the memories of the water at Fort Cochin. It calls out to me, the vivid vision of water meeting land, meeting humankind, meeting God.

It is rich, so rich. The food, the Yoga, my friends, strangers who become friends. As I travel further and further I fear my friends will become strangers.

Holy ground is everywhere. I remember it from the bridges of Rishikesh, or from the streets of Jerusalem. I notice it on the rocks of Drumbeg Park on Gabriola and the depths of the canyons in Arizona. I try to feel it on the streets of Los Angeles. Access to my spiritual awareness fails me. It gets lost in the bustling activities of California and in the busyness of every minute. The consumer mentality is everywhere and there is a bit of ironic cynicism. I forget to sit quietly and I sometimes miss the important messages of Nature. I strive to stay close to my self and to make the distance manageable.

The desire to be close to nature inspires my need for quiet and peace. I don’t want to try so hard. I just want to be comfortable in my surroundings. The Grand Canyon, so truthful and vast in it’s presentation is so big and yet so easy to take in. I am on my way back.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learning Wine

Teachers know that when you really, really want to learn something, it is best to experience it. Learning doesn’t happen just from reading books. Nor does it happen just by listening to lectures. The more ways learners get to experience the new information, the more apt she/he will be to actually learn it.

We are travelling through Northern California in the Sonoma Valley. The land is covered in vineyards and there are wineries abundant. I am learning about wine. That can be dangerous!

We are visiting cousins of Paul who live in Santa Rosa. Andy introduces us to an enormous castle nestled in the town of Kenwood. The castle, built in natural wood and carefully constructed hardware, sits in the midst of acres of grapes growing vibrantly. All the vineyards grow for the purpose of producing wine. The wine here is available only through this winery.

Back in Canada, I have started to bottle my own wine. I go to a ‘wine boutique’ where I talk with Tammy or Will about the kind of wine I want to create. The first batch of 30 bottles was a basic cabernet sauvignon composition. It was hard for me to anticipate the taste and I didn’t really know how to play with the intricacies to make it more exact to the taste I want. The other thing about that first batch is we never really gave it the required chance to age. The freshly bottled wine requires, at least, six weeks to settle. We opened our first bottle within three hours.

The second batch has been sitting in our basement for 3 months now. And the third batch is waiting to be bottled when I return home. I have no doubt that with each batch I make, it will become better and better. The cabernet Sauvignon that is waiting to be bottled now has a significant quantity of cloves that I added to it for a unique flavour.

I am learning how to temper the taste so that each batch tastes more the way I want it to. That takes time because I rely on the small steps that move me closer to the ‘perfect’ taste. The more I learn about how to adjust the taste of the grapes as they ferment, the easier it will be to get to the taste I want. Learning takes time when it happens organically. Patience is necessary.

Mark is our teacher today. We arrive at Ledson Winery about 45 minutes before it closes for the day. Mark is really eager to help us. We are the only tasters on the property. I am interested in learning and Mark is interested in teaching. He also probably smells the probability of a good sell.

“Just tell me the name of the grapes, and let me taste the wine. Then I can learn to differentiate. “ I say to him. He provides.

Chardonnay, Sangiovhese, Cabernet Blanc, Sirah, Merlot, are all names of grapes. Each has its own characteristics. Everything influences the outcome of the final product of the wine. The nature of the soil, the labour of the farmers, the intensity of the sun, all contribute to the healthy growth of the grapes. And then what we do to the grapes, the various ingredients we add to their content, and the way in which we compose the wine are al factors. And time too. Monitoring the time the wine ferments is critical. Not too long, not too short, all within it’s own time…just right.

No doubt I learned a lot about wine. Information that I will eventually be able to apply in my own practise has been helpful. And the experience made it just a little bit more fun. There’s something about wineries that I find very comforting. The grapes grow. They are there for the takers. And they undoubtedly know they are being nurtured purposefully.

We taste 10 different wines as Mark talks us through the process. By the time we leave we are full, a little bit tipsy, and so much more informed about wine. And I understand. I need to experience to learn what I’m learning. What an experience that was!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco

While we were in San Francisco, our friend, Gerry encouraged us to attend the Sunday morning church service at Glide Memorial Church. We didn’t know what to expect. It was Sunday. That’s a perfect day to go to church!
As we approach the church, it is hard to avoid noticing the numbers of homeless or vagrant people that line the pavements of Ellis Street. Colourful, ragged and often filthy clothing hangs roughly on many bodies. Voices of different levels, speaking many dialects can be heard even when there is no one listening. Beautiful faces, contorted by drug use, mental illnesses, and hopelessness roam the sidewalks sometimes overflowing onto the busy, vehicle jammed streets. Through it all there is a feeling of salvation.

Inside the church people gather. It is an overflow from the streets. The wooden pews are packed with colourful people waiting for the service to begin. There is joy and laughter and song. The promise of lively, soulful, and energetic music lends to our anticipation. The service begins.
People are comfortable together, joining hands and hearts and voices. Eyes and palms raise up towards the sky. The music, played by an eight piece band and an 80 voice choir lift us all up together. The overhead screen projects verses of poetry and prose from Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou. There are photographs of Abraham Lincoln and Barak Obama and groups of people noticeably making a difference in their world by sticking together. We sing. We sway. We dance. We watch and we listen. We are truly together. We are all the same. We are all so different.

At first glance Glide is unlike the meditative calm of a Hindu Temple. It is not a synagogue where communal prayer joins with the Torah to hear Godly lessons. It does not compare. It is way more boisterous and active than Yoga, meditation and calm. And, yet, the energy created is still the same. There is a joy for life and an appreciation for joy. There’s a communal love for self, for each other and, ultimately for the Universe that provides for us all. I am present and here and content being with others in this place… now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tent Rocks, New Mexico

The quiet is what attracts me here. God’s colours become clear here in New Mexico even during the colder Winter months. The blue sky speckled with white is only highlighted by the snow capped brown peaks of the mountains.
The bare trees stand strong, relieved of their leaves, resting, re-energizing, and waiting for the warmer weather and the eventual budding of leaves and fruits.

Nestled in these desert lands is Tent Rocks, just a short detour off of Route 66. A National Monument hidden in Kasha-Katuwe on our route between Santa Fe’ New Mexico and Prescott, Arizona, we decide to stop. It seems we are the only ones who ever did. Not a soul around. The quiet is exaggerated. The silence refuels my soul.

I am reminded to re-energize regularly….to stop, reflect, and resettle once again with the space around me. It is really that simple.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Svetlana was 6 years old when she and her mother and father arrived to Canada from Russia. Her parents, Ludmilla and Rudy both had careers in Russia as engineers. Though life was manageable there, they chose to come to Canada for religious freedom and economic growth. Svetlana was going in to grade 1.

It was 1981. I had been teaching for 2 years. I knew I still had a lot to learn, but my Principal at the time believed in me, guided me, and encouraged me enough to make me believe that I was doing okay.

I remember going in to his office regularly in tears. “I’m not good enough for those kids.” I would cry. “They’re not getting enough from me.”

“You’re a great teacher,” he would say, “love yourself enough to know that. These are your first years of teaching. You’ll get better and better.”

“Yeah, but what about those poor students?" Why should they suffer because it’s my first years?”

That year I decided to refrain from sending my non-English speaking students to an ESL class. I made sure, instead, to provide regular opportunity for all my students to speak together in the classroom and practise English with in the regular activities that took place together. Svetlana was in that class!

That year, I stopped using the Basil readers as the primary reading source. I did away with ability based grouping. Every 3 weeks I walked to the public library. I gathered picture books and carried them back to the classroom. Each day I would close the door to my classroom (so no one would see) and ‘play’ with books. I would get on the floor with the kids, cuddle sometimes, lie flat on my belly sometimes, or gather a group together to read. Loving books was the focus. Svetlana was part of that play!

It was the year I realized the difference between teaching curriculum and teaching kids. I began to understand the benefits of creating time for kids to play with their environment and to explore the world around them. I recognized the power they gained from connecting with others through that discovery. And I realized the joy that I got from connecting with each of them every day!

It was the year that I really began to love teaching! I continue to explore these ideas, and my learning continues to be fine-tuned. But that was the year it began. Svetlana was one of my teachers!

That year Svetlana and her parents came to our house for the Passover seder. She had told me that she had never been to a seder before. By then, Mila and Rudy were pregnant with their 2nd child. Our relationship was just beginning.

I never imagined then, that I would be attending Sveta’s wedding 30 years later. Or that I would regularly hear her words of love for me and her gratitude for that, her first experience in school. I never thought that her ability to persevere in all areas, and her innate aptitude for mathematical computation and her uncanny balance between arts and sciences would eventually translate to a PhD in molecular biology and a full career in Scientific research.

And I never ever believed that I would be hanging out at the beach, visiting the zoo and sharing adventures in San Diego with her and her family today. Firman and Sveta have been married for 6 years now. He seems to be the love her life. They have 3 children, Lia, Sam and Ana, all of whom are under 5 years old. All of whom have embraced us into their home....into their lives. It is natural and comfortable. The connections we have with her children are strong.

I am fortunate in my life. I chose a career, early, that was right for me. I worked hard at improving in my practise and loved the journey every step of the way. I made many mistakes. And I made so many friends. I am so much richer with each of them. I have Sveta in my life!

“Thank you for believing that I was okay. Thank you for giving me the chance to learn.” Sveta has said to me lately.

Thank you too, my dear Svetlana, for giving me the same….and so much more! You are a treasure in my life!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Paul wrote a new song. It’s called Where Does the Time Go? In it he writes "It seems like yesterday I held a little hand. But it’s been so long and I just don’t understand.”

This weekend we took care of Stella and Oscar while their parents were away. We had plans, and they had plans too. We needed to consider it all.

For Stella and Oscar, Saturday morning is all about television. Paul and I strategize about how we could accommodate their love for television and still get them to their skating lessons in time.

“Hey guys, can we talk?” was the question we asked as we walked into the room to find them stretched, face down in front of the screen.

“We need to leave the house by 9:45 to make sure we get Oscar to his skating lesson on time. Before that we have to have breakfast and get dressed. We figure you could probably have enough time for another ½ hour of television. Then we’ll call you to get moving.”

Stella’s response was immediate. “Okay”, she said. Oscar came around later, as he often does with Stella’s influence.

Being a grandparent is not the same as being a parent! Paul and I have raised 7 children and we think our ‘children’ are pretty incredible people as grown ups.

In our house, we co-parented. We carefully planned together first, what ever needed to be planned, and anticipated possible outcomes, so we could be ready with appropriate responses.

“Let’s agree that there are no treats before tonight’s dinner.”

“Maybe we could let Josh stay out until 1:00 a.m. this Saturday night. And one of us will pick him up at the subway”

“Julia wants to go to a concert on Wednesday night. That’s a school night. What do you think?”

“What should we do if Lindsay throws a fit about not being allowed to stay out until 3;00 am thid weekend before a exam?”.”

As a grandparent the added participation of the parents can complicate best laid plans, and it is often unpredictable what the outcomes might be. It’s harder to anticipate, and certainly more challenging to guarantee consequences. Though we can show disappointment and sadness, we can’t send the children to their room or prevent them from playing with a friend.

As grandparents, the consequences become more natural. If Stella is rude, I can get upset. I might even choose to stay away from her for some time. It is our talking together that becomes the intentional learning opportunity. I find, as a grandmother some of the rules have changed. What used to be so simple and obvious now has to be filtered through the parents. And we don’t always see things the same way. We often have differing methods of dealing with situations that arise.

One thing is for sure though…watching Stella and Oscar skate this morning, transported me back to the days when I watched their dad, Jonathan, and Uncle Philip skate during their hockey games. The arena was directly across the street from our apartment building on Goldfinch Ave. Every Saturday and Sunday mornings, (sometimes as early as 5:30!) we lugged their duffle bags full of hockey equipment to the game. Philip still insists I ‘made’ him carry the bag all alone, but I clearly remember sharing the burden half/half.

I watched them play on the ice, week after week.

Neither kid, not Jonathan nor Philip, seemed particularly interested in being there. From the looks of their rhythmical gliding, and the dancing of their arms, and the occasional glance up onto the ceiling, it sometimes seemed that they would rather be at home writing poetry.

The excitement came if (and when) their team won, and one of the parents bought everyone a coke. I don’t remember ever buying the coke! I do remember the only goal either one ever succeeded at achieving. Philip scored one goal in all his years of hockey. Unfortunately it was in his own team’s net!

This morning brought me back to then. The times are changed some, but things still are really the same. Stella, more interested in the chocolate chip cookie and hot chocolate, tolerates the ½ hour skating lesson, because by the end she knows she’ll be eating!

Oscar skates back and forth, following the rest of his class, all of whom are appropriately dressed in figure skaters skirts and sequins. Back and forth, back and forth he skates, slowly, leisurely, with a sense of relaxation and ease. Occasionally he gets a lift between his teacher's knees. And as I watch him carefully, I swear I can hear the poetry that he is creating as he glides.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Balancing Life

Today’s thoughts are a lot about balance. We’ve been travelling now for almost 4 weeks. Our adventures have been numerous and I have ample opportunity to reconnect with Nature after immersing myself in workshops and classrooms during the month of December. It was a busy time! These last few weeks have been a welcome break!

January we drove across the entire United States arriving finally in Los Angeles. Our son Jonathan, daughter-in-law, Vanessa and our two fantastic grandchildren, Oscar (4) and Stella (7) live here. We are settling in with them for a few weeks. We make dinners, read books, go for walks, and take the children to their schools in the morning. There are skating lessons, violin practise, karate, and gymnastics. There are books to read together and toys and games to play, and conversation that can only happen between us. Grandchildren are very special people!

It was Stella's birthday this week too! We were able to celebrate together!

There is work here too. Today I had a meeting at one of the schools in the area. The Principal is eager to provide professional development that focuses on character education. He wants to enhance positive interactions amongst students and teachers and enrich the learning environment for students. The school, grades kindergarten to five is a friendly community school. I am excited about the opportunity to work with them. I’m feeling eager to get back to my work.

I remember a Yoga colleague of mine, Jacqueline, from several years ago. It was during a time in my life when I was working long hours, daily and had very little time for leisure and relaxation. After a late evening practise she and I were talking. She’s a professional photographer and we were talking about our work. “Do you work every day?” I asked her, curious about the successes working her art to make money. With a slight blowing out of one side of her mouth, she responded with, “No way!”

That was a new beginning for me. I began to consider alternatives to the hectic, often, crazy days that I had been obsessed with work. Restructuring the way I think about money and responsibility and recognizing that I can have it all led me to change the way I live. Balance…..regular work, some play, quiet time, oppprtunities for adventure, laughter and calm. I think I’m finally getting it!