Yoga/Movement Feed

Dragon Flower Mini-Farm Update: Please Fence Me In

Zigzag
It feels a bit... "open-space in a bad way."

When Anthony and I bought our St. Louis home last fall, we were well aware of its flaws. After all, those flaws gave us a below-market price for a near-pristine World's Fair-era home with loads of period charm. It's the kind of house that makes you swoon and want to break into song like Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis." For my West Coast friends, let me list some of these drool-worthy details of which you might not be familiar, since I know you have less exposure to homes built during the turn of the last century: tall ceilings and oversized windows, character mouldings, original wainscoting, copper (!) doorknobs, transoms on both outside and inside doorways, original hardwood floors, a carved bannister, and finally, a dramatic fireplace graced by a wooden shield adornment. Yeah, that's right. A shield.

The house is also in a very walkable neighborhood full of funky shops and restaurants and more yoga studios per capita than any neighborhood I encountered in the Pacific Northwest (so take that). Side note, gamers: we can walk to not one but two places to buy comic books and games--plus there's a pinball bar. I like the 'hood better than Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, where I lived for a decade, and I was a super-loyal Ballardite who thought I'd never leave. Maplewood has all the good parts of Ballard, in my opinion, and none of the bad, as it's still working class, affordable, and somehow retaining its original Route 66 vibe even though we've got an entire shop devoted to bespoke knives and a restaurant that serves "shaved kale salad."

So those are the USPs, or unique selling points, for ye who aren't addicted to HGTV. But back to the flaws. I'm sure when you weren't distracted by the 60s vintage table set (I've had that beauty for 20 years) and lovingly rehabilitated rose bush in the photo above, you undoubtedly noticed the apartment building.

Hmm... yeah, the apartment building. It's a doozy of a flaw, for sure. Here's another shot so you can get the full effect.

Leftside
Yep, that's a double-decker balcony staring right down into our yard.

A lot of people would run screaming from this, and a lot did. The house had sat on the market for nine months before we bought it.

But Anthony and I fell in love with it... and we smelled an opportunity. The lot is 1/4th of an acre, walking distance to the St. Louis city limit. Within a 10-minute drive is the world-famous St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, and Science Center, all flanking Forest Park, which is not only hands-down the loveliest city park I've ever seen, it's larger than New York's Central Park, a fact that seems to shock even St. Louisans. The only thing that would make the home's location better would be a view of the Arch, which you can get a short walk away.

Anthony loved the property's quiet, farm-like feel. A quarter acre is a lot of land to play with, the biggest plot either of us has had across the span of adult lives spent in ten different cities, six different houses, and more apartments than we can count. Besides, we'd outgrown our last garden, a tiny in-town plot in Chehalis, Wash., in pretty short order, filling it within two years and wishing we had more room.

We discussed the matter and decided that the house's main flaw (and its smaller ones, too) could be fixed, with a little hard work and patience. And that brings me to the big reveal.

This summer, we initiated STEP ONE of our master plan, which was to remove the eyesore chainlink fence zigzagging across the left side of the yard and replace it with a 6-foot tall wooden one. We actually wanted an 8-footer, but the city of Maplewood would only permit to a max height of 6 feet. So much for property rights. Here you can see an orange broom my husband is holding up, showing where the 8-foot fence would have reached. Ah, well.

Broom1
Where's Waldo--and his orange broom?

Once the powers-that-be nixed the 8-foot option, we knew we wouldn't get the first-tier-balcony coverage we wanted, but the fence was necessary anyway to block off the wall of cars that is the apartment building parking lot, which butts right up against our property line. Not to mention an eyesore of a Dumpster that was all-too-visible from the house. And yeah, the zigzagging... which was weird and bad feng shui for sure and probably a holdover from when there was a garage at the back of the house, as the fence once skirted a gravel drive that is now buried under a layer of turf. Good times.

I hate chainlink fence. Just hate it. We were worried we'd have to remove it ourselves, but the fence company we hired removed it for us--along with a metric ton of vegetation that had to go as well.

Allclear
No more chainlink!

We got bids from 3 different companies, and Just Wooden Fences was the best fit for us. I can't say enough good things about this company. The owner, Walt Thorngren, came over to measure for the bid himself, was very helpful in going over the options, and even provided us with a list of recommended contractors and providers for other home improvement services. Walt was super-responsive throughout the process, and his crew worked quickly and efficiently, to a high level of quality.

Chainsaw
A tough job, but the crew pressed on.

We were particularly impressed that the Just Wooden Fences crew tackled a tricky situation: A very mature plant meant to be a ground cover that had grown around and through the chainlink. At first I felt guilty because removing the chainlink would definitely mean removing the plant, but during our visit from the St. Louis Audubon Society, we found out that the plant was none other than wintercreeper--also known as Euonymous fortunei--which is considered an invasive "thug" here in Missouri. They recommended eradicating it, so we did.

Wintercreeper
Die, wintercreeper, die!

Later, we treated the exposed stumps with an herbicide, which normally, I'm opposed to, but this plant unfairly competes with and displaces native plants and is particularly noxious in the way it spreads. After doing a lot of research, we made the tough call to treat the stumps. There's wintercreeper EVERYWHERE, so I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this little villain.

On to happier topics... I don't know if you've ever had a fence installed, but this is my first one. So you can imagine the emotion I felt when that pile of lumber the crew brought started to look like, you know, a fence!

Postsup
When the posts went up, so did my excitement!

If I'd known getting a new fence was this easy, I'd have been getting new fences all my life. Of course, what made it easy for us is that we hired a company to do the work, one that specializes in fences--JUST wooden fences! My brother installed his own fence, with my other brother's help, but they are mechanics and guy-guys who are good at that stuff. (And younger. I'm the oldest of four.) Anthony and I knew ourselves well enough to know that actually building a fence was outside our limits. As recently as this past spring, we both hurt our backs, like a couple of typically middle-aged people with desk jobs.

Crewfromupstairs
Aerial view of the awesome crew.

The fence installation only took two days: one to remove the old fence, and another to put up the new. Just Wooden Fences cleared out the chainlink entirely, gave us a referral for someone to haul away the vegetation debris, and left us with a gorgeous, brand-new fence.

Finished
I've never loved something so utilitarian like this before.

OK, so we opted to get the raw cedar, which is stunning, as you can see. But in a couple years' time, that will turn drab grey, so we needed to stain/seal it ourselves, to preserve both the color and the integrity and lifespan of the fence. That was a harder job than we'd thought, mainly because it required using an oil-based stain (yes, we realize there are latex options, but all the research says it won't last). The fumes were as noxious as that durn wintercreeper, and since I can barely stand perfume, let alone oily paint fumes, it was more than I could take. Next time, we hire someone with spray equipment to get the job done lickety-split.

Stain
My husband, the hunky fence guy. Between the construction-worker vibe and the doctor's gloves, this might be more fantasy than I can handle.

Here's the view from the dining room before and after...

Now you see the Dumpster...

Dumpster

And now you don't...

Nodumpster
Yes. This.

What a difference a fence makes, people. If you don't have a fence, I highly recommend getting one. If you're in the St. Louis area, seriously, just call Walt at Just Wooden Fences.

Finalfence
Ah....

I know, I know... you're like, wait! What about the balconies! They can still look down on you! But don't worry. We have a fix in store... stay tuned.

What do you think of the project so far? Any tips, from those of you who've been down this road? What sayest thou? Don't you want to come over now and plant some carrots????

Previous mini-farm updates:

Insect Week!

Original Yarden Photos


How to Embrace Your Dark Side Without Getting Lost

 

The-Devil
From the Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets.

I begin most days by drawing a tarot card. It's part of my spiritual practice to think about the current challenge or lesson and draw a card that, when it's all working well, gives me insight. One day last week, I drew The Devil.

This can be an alarming card to have pop up in a reading, thanks to the bad rap the hooved one gets in Christian-influenced culture. I'm many decades away from the colorful images of El Diablo that illustrated my Catholic children's bible, and it still gives me pause. These days, I see the world less in terms of good vs. evil and as more of a continuum. But The Devil in a one-card reading is cause to sit up and pay attention nonetheless.

The deck I currently use is the Ghetto Tarot, created by talented photographer Alice Smeets, who based it on the 1909 work of another artist, Pamela Colman-Smith. There's a lot to love about Ghetto Tarot. First, it's a photographic representation of each card in the traditional deck, of which most people are familiar, and set entirely in the Haitian ghetto. The images are stunning and powerful, showing how the themes in the traditional deck resonate well in a culture outside that tradition. Second, this deck uniquely embraces the darker side of the tarot. Smeets offers her argument:

We tend to concentrate on the light aspects of the seemingly more positive cards and are afraid of the apparently negative cards such as Death, the Devil, and the Tower ... That's because we are conditioned by our society, our parents, and our teachers to categorize the negative as bad, instead of helpful. Many of us fear pain instead of welcoming it. But every negative situation is an opportunity to grow and learn, while every positive situation has the potential to spin out of control.

The deck plays on "shadow" as well as "light," with each card in the deck possessing both sides. The Devil's shadow side can be "acting against your convictions." The "light" is "finding and accepting your dark side." 

Drawing The Devil would have been reason enough for me to mull over the idea of finding and accepting my dark side, but sometimes the Divine hits you over the head with things that seem to have extra importance.

The same day I drew The Devil, I went to the library to pick up a book I'd requested through interlibrary loan. I had learned of the book from a review and either hadn't seen or didn't remember the cover, which is this:

  Generation of Sociopaths cover

Yeah, I know. Pretty interesting coincidence. The book is a provocative read, all right, challenging everything I've believed about my parents' generation. Maybe that was the lesson of the day: To go there, to push my thinking into a dark place again. The book sort of chose me, along with a few others on class in society--after this in my stack are White Trash and Poor But Proud. It's all research for an in-progress novel based on a real-life murder.

My previous work is a lot of light: the Dreamslippers Series. Back in 2012 when I began to write those stories, I started to take my first book in a darker direction, and the result is that I relapsed into PTSD nightmares, which I'd been free of for some time. So I backed away from that and wrote a cozy-ish series about a 70-something yogi named Amazing Grace instead.

But of course, some of the darkness seeped in. It's called conflict, and you can't have a story without it, especially if your sleuths are solving murders. Besides murder, I also tackled anti-gay violence, racism, murderous jealousy, BDSM, child pornography, and incest. So, yeah. Even when I've got my head turned toward the light, the darkness fringes. At the corners, at least.

I'd been content to relegate it to the edges. But this Devil showing up in my life with such force made me wonder. A recent bout of writer's block specific to the aforementioned novel-in-progress came to mind. Maybe the block had to do with suppressing the dark side? Not wanting to go where I sense this story will make me go? And if I had any doubt, scanning through my email the same day of the two devil-related incidents above dispelled it, as one subject line in particular jumped out at me:

Writer, give in to your dark side

The email came from one of my favorite follows, Colleen M. Story's Writing and Wellness Blog. And lo and behold, the entire newsletter was devoted to this "dark side" issue, and specifically for writers. The articles? Here you go:

 The email was illustrated with another devil:

Devil girl

At this point, I'm like, OK, OK! Dark side! Got it! Thanks, Spirit! Paying attention now, I promise!

But ugh.

Didn't I already know this? 

Over the winter, my stepson turned us onto a movie he loved called Inside Out. It's a Pixar animated film, brilliantly done, and the gist of it is that [spoiler alert] the character you think is the hero, the one who's relentlessly positive, actually turns out to be the villain. At least of a kind. The movie does a remarkable job of illustrating how terrifically bad it is to suppress feelings because they're "negative." The filmmakers consulted psychologists in making the film. I highly recommend it for anyone who's convinced--or is tired of those who are convinced--that positivity is the only way to go, all the time. You're welcome.

There's a real benefit to healthy expressions of negativity. If someone's wronged or harmed you, swallowing your anger or outrage could actually make you feel complicit in their act, an enabler to your own victimization. Denial, sugar-coating the truth, false positivity--none of these things serve us well. 

But there's a balance to it.

One of many dead manuscripts I have in a drawer is something I finished back in 2007 called Meat: A Memoir. I gave it to the agent I had at the time, and, based on the title, she had high hopes. (She described me at a party once as "very talented and very intense.") She loved the short story collection she was then shopping around to publishers. But Meat? "I couldn't get through it," she told me.

It was all darkness, with very little light.

So that's my challenge, as both a writer and a human being.  To integrate my shadow and light sides, to allow them to coexist without judgment, suppression, or imbalance.

But how do you do that? Here are five ways I strike the balance:

  1. Be honest about your feelings. This starts with your own awareness: If something's bothering you, check in to see what exactly it is. Take a moment to get present; close your eyes; see what bubbles up. Writing can be a very powerful discovery tool as well. Sometimes I'll free-write about my project if I've got writer's block. This story is difficult right now because...
  2. Don't guilt or shame yourself into forced happiness. It's OK to feel angry, disappointed, sad, depressed... feel all the feelings. A spiritual leader I know once advised that sometimes, lying on the couch and sucking your thumb is exactly the right response to the situation. This goes for fictional characters, too. My best writing comes when I "torture" my characters and let them respond in very human ways.
  3. Don't guilt or shame yourself into silence. Talking about the darkness can help bring it into the light. I once had a writing teacher say that Shakespeare's work continues to resonate to this day because most of the characters are speaking at moments of high crisis. This is where the best fiction lies.
  4. Don't let anyone else guilt or shame you into silence. Whenever I get to the point where I feel someone is just not capable of hearing me, I stop the conversation and find other ways to express myself. Truths can be uncomfortable, and when they threaten status quo, there can be a tendency to silence the truth-bearer. But silencing someone is a power play that comes from insecurity. This goes for writing groups, too. If someone's critiquing your work in a way that feels silencing, it might be time to reevaluate whether the critique is constructive or even helpful.
  5. Don't wallow. If you find you've been wading in the darkness for some time, and you're far past the point of gaining insight from it, then it's time to get up off the couch and rejoin the world. But even then, don't do the things people want you to do but rather what brings you happiness. That goes for the writing, too. Like my dead manuscript example above, an all-dark world doesn't actually make for good storytelling. Without the victory, conflict can feel relentless and suffocating. 

What it comes down to is your shadow side and your dark side actually need each other.

Thanks to Alice Smeets for her lovely Ghetto Tarot and Colleen M. Story for her insightful essays. I hope you'll check out their work.

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How to Spend a Rainy Weekend: Dreamslipping!

Get the Entire Dreamslippers Series on Ebook for 75% Off

Boxed Set Dreamslippers WIDE

It's May and still raining here in the Pacific Northwest, which probably explains why we're such a readerly culture. Nothing says "stay home and read a book" like nine months of near-continuous grey skies. So to ease you in this time of need, we've slashed the price on the Dreamslippers Series boxed set by 75%. That means you can get the entire award-winning series plus the bonus story for only $2.99. 

Series highlights:

  • Answers that all-consuming question, What if you could slip into the dreams of a killer? 
  • The Dreamslippers are a family of private investigators who solve crime using their ability to see the dreams of others
  • For mystery lovers who like a bit of realistic psychic flavor in their whodunits
  • Gay and trans-friendly, with a diverse cast of characters
  • Respectful to Christians and conservatives, not that those two things have to go together (a shout-out to liberal Christians and conservative atheists!)
  • Features a grandmother/granddaughter duo, and they have lots of conversations that don't focus on men or dating
  • Still, they get their romance on, too, so plenty of hotness, even at Granny Grace's age
  • Winner of the indieBRAG medallion, finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award, and nominated for a RONE Award

The sale applies to the boxed set, which is on ebook only and available pretty much wherever ebooks are sold, for any device in any format. 

Pass this on to your friends! Word-of-mouth sells more books than anything else. And do post a review of the boxed set when you're done reading, whether doing so made you into a committed fan or not. While book one in the series, Cat in the Flock, is up to 75 reviews now on Amazon, we don't have any yet for the boxed set, so potential readers are missing out on Grace and the gang. :( That's just how this works.

Also... exciting news! We're in talks with Hollywood representatives about interest in adapting the Dreamslippers Series to film/TV. Stay tuned... 


That Reaction We Have to Our Bodies in Photos

LIsa-Email-Banner

So here I am, for the first time my body used in an ad.

The dance studio I belong to draws on its members for depictions to help celebrate—and yes, advertise—its offerings. The owner only uses images of members who have given permission to do so. 

Over the past six months, I have given and then rescinded and then given my permission again, struggling with the power of seeing photos of myself in motion. Not controlled. Not posed. Not sucking my belly in but breathing fully.

I’ve seen many images like this in my Facebook feed--showing other women. I even have a calendar on my kitchen wall, each month a photo not of Photoshopped models but of the women I see every week on the dance floor, in all their sweaty, smiling glory.

Without exception, I’ve viewed these photos as beautiful and inspiring. But when my own image, the one above, graced the top of an email banner one day, and a slew of other photos followed close behind on Facebook, I felt mortified with embarrassment.

And this surprised me.

It still does.

You see, I’m someone who’s done all the work. I long ago tossed aside Hollywood beauty standards, have never wanted to be New York thin, and have always praised myself on my body-positive attitude. More than a decade ago, I brought the multimedia production bodyBODY to the college where I taught so that students could participate in a show that celebrated the diversity and health of real women’s bodies.

Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.

I can keep doing the work. That’s why I’m sharing this post.

But you have to do it, too. 

When I lose weight, even if it’s from illness, I am praised, mostly by other women. But if I gain even within a healthy range, no matter what amazing feat I’m achieving on my yoga mat, there’s no praise.

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I was merely bloated. By the way, “Are you pregnant?” is a question that should never be asked.

When dating in my late thirties, one man told me flat-out that he preferred “skinny Asians.” Another said a weight-loss and exercise plan would be “such a great trend” for me.

The very photographer who took the picture above told me the only way to photograph “curvy” women like me in a flattering way is from above. I was criticizing her, and she was being defensive, but this still came out. 

Once, my own mother went through every one of our family photo albums, cutting herself out of all of the pictures.

Why wouldn’t I react to seeing myself in photos?

How did you react?

Did you think I was being brave?

Consider that for a moment.

To paraphrase comedian Amy Schumer, no woman wants to be told “you’re brave” in response to sharing a picture of herself.

Because here I am, dancing my dance, working every breath on loving myself. And I could use a little help.

 


Work of Light: A Dreamslippers Series Prequel

Work of Light cover_edited-1

Since publishing the first book in the Dreamslippers Series in 2014, I've heard from many readers who are curious about Amazing Grace's back story. So with the release of the entire trilogy as a boxed set this February, I included a novella titled Work of Light. It answers these questions and more: How did Grace get her name? What happened when her daughter Mercy was born? And did Grace really go undercover inside a cult?

Here are the first few scenes from the novella. If you're hungry for more, I've made the entire story available for free to Wattpad members. You can also take advantage of the current sale on the ebook boxed set, which gives you all three novels plus the novella for only $6.99.

 Work of Light

Sun Rising presided over a flock of one hundred and twenty-eight followers, with about one-third more women than men, a ratio he preferred. He believed women worked harder than men, and besides, Sun Rising really loved women.

Particularly Grace. “The strength in you flows to your loins,” he’d said once, in all seriousness, though thinking back on the comment brought an involuntary smile to Grace’s lips. She looked down at her lean, muscular loins now, swaddled in bedsheets she’d washed herself and then hung to dry on the ashram’s extensive clotheslines. They dried quickly in the blasting Arizona heat. In the cracked mirror on the opposite wall, she caught a glimpse of her tousled hair, bleached blonde in the desert sun. Like most women in the ashram, Grace was still young enough to contribute physical labor to the cause. But that didn’t mean it hadn’t taken its toll on her. She’d spent the previous day digging a trench for the new septic tank. Her hands were cracked and calloused. Her knees and back hurt. It looked as if she’d clawed dirt.

But the hard work had its benefits, too. Grace had awakened that morning from a deep sleep, blissfully free of dreams—her own or anyone else’s she might pick up with her psychic gift. 

Blessed be exhaustion, she thought. All praise the dreamless night.

In the bunk beneath hers, Mercy slept soundly. A little bubble had formed on her lips, and the girl’s straw-straight hair splayed over the pillow. Grace felt a mixture of pride and something else—anxiety—well up in her. What a good helper Mercy had been yesterday, hauling away rocks as the crew worked. Grace made her stop once and chase lizards with the other kids in the cactus garden. She didn’t want the twelve-year-old to work too hard. To miss what was left of her girlhood. 

The way Grace had missed hers.

She catapulted herself out of the bunk and gently woke Mercy. Once dressed in scratchy tunics, and both heads of hair wet-combed, they padded barefoot together, hand in hand, down the stone walkway to the kitchen to start breakfast.

>>>

Sun Rising was neither attractive nor unattractive. A bit bland, really. He shaved his head for effect, but also because if he let it grow, it would cover only a crescent of his dome. She could see his head’s five-o’clock shadow every evening, when he removed the turban.

That morning at breakfast, he and the other men arrived at their usual time, just as the women were laying out the meal on all the tables. 

“Blessed be the bounty of our Great Spirit,” he intoned. Hands clasped hands all around the table. “All praise the work of Light.”

How devious that he consistently attributed the women’s work to that of the Spirit, Grace thought. As if some ghostly being had slaved in the kitchen for the past hour, spooning preserves into little bowls and stirring the rice cereal so it wouldn’t lump. Though she’d come to the ashram full of hope that it would live up to its promise of total egalitarianism, the ways in which it reflected the flaws of the outside world had started to rankle her.

“Amazing Grace,” he suddenly called out. It was the name she’d chosen to use in the ashram, as it was the custom to shed one’s birth name and adopt a new one. She’d never liked her birth name, anyway. Priscilla didn’t seem to fit her at all. 

“Yes, Sun Rising?”

“I’ve seen how well you organized the kitchen.” He paused a moment, as if to allow her to bask in his praise. “Before you arrived, it was very inefficient, and the women working there did not enjoy it.”

This was true enough, from what Grace had heard, and looking around the room now, she caught a few nods. The women had warmed to her since she treated them with respect and allowed them to share in the decision-making. Her strong but gentle leadership had been well received. The place ran as smoothly as the grandfather clock in her parents’ house.

“I would like to engage you in a special project. Please come to my private quarters during this afternoon’s leisure time.”

This was posed not as a question but as a directive. She nodded assent.

But as she helped the other women clean up after breakfast, Grace worried that Sun Rising’s interest in her went beyond her organizational talents. It was pretty much guaranteed, since she was a woman. So how would she finagle her way out of this one?

She cast a glance at Mercy, playing now with the other preteens in a corner of the kitchen. The girl had a dish towel wrapped around her head, mimicking the style worn by Sun Rising and the upper tier of the ashram’s male leadership. Mercy placed her hand on top of another girl’s head, and the girl bowed beneath her as Mercy intoned, “All praise the work of Light.”

Grace allowed herself a sigh of relief. At least Sun Rising’s interest in the female sex did not include anyone under the age of eighteen. In fact, he seemed to prefer the more seasoned members of the ashram, which is likely why, coming up on her thirtieth birthday, she’d piqued his interest. Mercy would be safe here, safer than in the outside world. That’s partly why Grace had come...

Read on through Wattpad, or get the ebook boxed set.