Lessons from the Lawn Mower

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Fifteen years ago, one of the things I swore I’d never do in a marriage is use a lawn mower. In sickness and in health and in long, grassy lawns that will never get the attention they deserve — from me. I’d tackle the gardens and keep those pesky weeds from cropping up, but the grass was not, in my mind, going to be my turf.

And turf, it ain’t. Because that shizzle can grow.

Lo and behold, as it turns out, if you find yourself living without a partner and the grass is growing up around your ankles and you’re pretty sure the ticks are going to come join you for dinner on the patio, the lawn needs to be trimmed. For a good chunk of the summer, I have a college kid who comes weekly, only leaving occasional grassy mohawk stripes here and there. I’m pretty sure he won’t be setting out for a career in Golf Course Management but until mid-August when he leaves for college, he gets the job done.

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During the grass growing —  let’s call it — shoulder season, it’s all me. Just a few pumps to prime it and a quick seventeen pulls on that thingymabob and we are off, the old biddy and me. It’s still kind of a new relationship. Blowing grass all over the state and into gardens throughout the land. It’s like synchronicity if you consider huffing, puffing, sweating, cursing and kicking machinery to be a match made in heaven.

A few weeks ago, as I started her up, I thought to myself, what a beautiful day. So grateful to be outside in the sun. And then I accidentally mowed over a plant. What can I say, turning on a dime is not in its vernacular. Wrangling this old lawn mower is not unlike pushing a mighty dog sled loaded with bricks — but with no dogs. For two hours. It’s a sweaty, laborious task that has nobody jumping up and down to say, Oooh, me me me! I’ll do it!

But I rallied, saying to myself: This is a first world problem, get over yourself.

You are WOMAN. {Mowing around the lavender bush – whoops, nicked my Liberty apple tree.}

You’re from hardy stock. {Mowing the perimeter of my vegetable garden.}

You are, like, Laura Ingalls Wilder. {Mowing below the grape vines.}

Get it DONE.

So, I did. And I checked it off the week’s To Do list.

The next week, the mower broke down. It needed a part, so I borrowed a neighbor’s.

How do you start it? I asked her.

Oh, you just push that button, she answered. I just looked at her. Say what?

Wow.

So I pushed the button and got her started up. Began mowing and realized right away that this thing was SELF PROPELLED. I could have traveled a hundred miles to Boston, mowing the whole way, it was so smooth.

You’ve GOT to be kidding me, I thought. I pretty much push an old car around my yard, hoping it will manicure those grassy tendrils around my garden, and there are lawn mowers out there that don’t suck? That don’t drop screws and washers every ten minutes? That actually catch the clippings?

On what planet had I been living?

My dear Dad, I should mention, generously gave me a check for my birthday that was meant to buy me a new mower. I’ve sat on it all summer and even now that I know mowing doesn’t HAVE to be a solo CrossFit workout, in a weird way, I kind of like it. In fact, I kind of missed my mower. What the whaaa? I know. I don’t love the frequency in which the grass needs to be cut. And I don’t love being the only person in my house capable of mowing said grass. But I do know that I’m strong. That when times get tough, I can make things happen. Not just peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and back tickles or homework and dance parties. I can get shit DONE.

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It’s a good reminder.

Doing things that are hard — that are less than savory or scary, even — is good for the spirit. [Mowing, I realize, is not scary.] And doing so reaches into your solar plexus, that area below your ribs and behind your stomach, into your power center. Tapping into this is what stimulates our hearts and our brains and our quest for a life well lived. Doing the hard stuff is what motivates us to do better. To be better.

I’m pretty sure life isn’t going to get better by chance. I think it takes optimism and, often, change.

So, I got the part. Fixed the old gal, who has a few good years left in her. And I vow to myself: until death do I part, I’ll be taking on the hard stuff in search of a better tomorrow.

 

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An open birthday letter to my eldest daughter.

Dear Blondie,

You’re officially 10. Double digits. A tween. How in the world did this happen? And when I say how in the world, what I really mean is HOW IN THE HELL but that’s not okay for you to say right now because you’re 10.

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But how in the in the hell of a world did this HAPPEN? You were just born. I was just holding you in my arms and you were falling asleep while I sang the lyrics to Blackbird. And why did I always sing that song to you, my newborn infant turned toddler turned girl child? Sunken eyes and broken wings, not so warm and fuzzy. A bit morbid for a baby. So nice to meet you, tiny human, now go to sleep while I sing to you about a dead bird. Of course, I get it, I know symbolism when I see it. But I find it compelling that I would sing to you about the Phoenix rising and you would lie there, having nursed, looking like a wee and happy drunken sailor in my arms. A perfect bundle with peach fuzzy hair and velvety pink skin. That little O you would make with those baby bird lips. Those teeny tiny fingernails, and how that one time I clipped your pinky because can it really be possible that fingernails come that small? It was, and you howled in pain and so then I cried, and then you drank from my breast and all was right with the world. Everything was always all right after those moments of closeness.

I had the power to make it better.

I won’t lie, becoming your mother was one of the most soul-satisfying jobs I could ever hope to have. And I haven’t looked back, not even for a fraction of a second. My Dad, your Grandpop, always used to say that in college I majored in People. I think that’s about right. I dig community, I’m like an archaeologist of the spirit. With perhaps a minor in Connection.

And so, connect we did. From the day you were born, you were keen and enthusiastic about life. Always up for an adventure. Always gratified in nature. Chock full of giggles and guffaws, you laughed at any and every thing. Comedy was your bag. You have always adored animals and used them as pillows whenever the opportunity allows. You have always had a kind heart, sensitive to others who are hurting, aware when friends are feeling left out. And dogmatic from the start, you were my little CEO — right out of the gate. No one was going to push you around. Boys that were bigger than you and being unjust? Knuckle sandwich on a plate — that, my dear, is what you’ve always served.

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Some of my favorite moments with you are the dance parties in the kitchen, where we Cha Cha and breakdance and moonwalk, channeling Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise in his Risky Business or even couch jumping days. The history of dance so often takes a tour of our living room. I also love having you come into my bedroom, as you do each morning, and Velcro-ing your long body next to mine. Still my baby girl but not unlike a big foal, my lanky tween, all arms and legs.

You are a love. And also, some days a bit of a crab. But unfortunately I’m your mom, not your friend. Saying that is a little tough for even me to swallow, but it’s true. I’m doing my best to guide you to the edge of the nest. I’ll keep your wings appropriately clipped for now, but when you’re ready…and I think we’ll both know when that day comes…I’ll be here to watch you go, to support you and love you and to stoke the home fires for those days when you return.

Meeting you was the best day of my life. Yet knowing and loving you has meant so much more.

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And that Phoenix? That’s not you, my sweet girl. You’re the baby bird and there’s a vast expanse of blue sky out there waiting for you. That bird, rising from the ashes, will be me. Because when you and your sister are grown and have gone out into the world, I know myself. I know my heart. That space that you both so lovingly fill will be broken wide open, and I will have to light my own way. Finding a path of not only having just been your mom, but a path that leads to a place of so much more, having known and loved you as my own. And just as I have tremendous faith in you, so do I in me.

Happy birthday, baby. Now would someone please spin for us a little PYT.

xoxoxo,

M.

 

 

 

Finding love in the Whole Foods parking lot

On a recent Saturday in July, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all do it. Maybe we slept poorly, or ate or drank something the night before that didn’t agree with us. Maybe we were awakened at midnight by a feverish child or we had a weird dream. Or, maybe there was no good reason at all. Just a funk.

Or, a midlife crisis. Whichever.

Upon waking up to this mood — because it was right there to greet me when I opened my eyes — I felt my breath catch and my heartbeat quicken. Pretty sure I’m having a heart attack, I thought. My breath began to stop and start, big pauses in between. Anxiety crept in.

Well, shit. This is going to be a bad day.

So I started breathing. If there’s one thing that yoga has taught me… it’s been this: BREATHE.LIKE.YOU.MEAN.IT.

Hearing your breath, you can’t help but start listening to it, listening to YOU. The flow of oxygen wakes everything up, and for me it hits the ignition on that force of my life, connecting me back to myself, connecting my body to my mind.

The day dragged on. I breathed through it, accepting that it was an “off” day. I drove to Whole Foods, where I figured I’d pick up a few items and head home to watch a movie, alone. Had a bit of trouble parking. Nothing new there.

But I finally managed to slip into a sliver of a space. As I was getting out of my car, I received a text from my friend, Kate.

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This involved driving northward 15 miles to get home, where I’d have to rifle through my closet and find suitable attire. Maybe apply some makeup. Be wedding-ready. Only to turn around again and head south 20 miles for the oceanside ceremony and reception. Hmm. Well, let me think abou-

OKAY!

Last minute invitation to a wedding to celebrate two excellent people? With a band and a whole lotta dancing?  You noticed she said ten minutes, right?

Total no brainer. I so love a party. I so love to have fun. But, mostly I love to celebrate people.

Nineteen minutes later, I was dressed and Kate and I were cruising to the wedding. I had met the bride and groom once before, and I liked their energy and big hearts. They seemed like two people who unabashedly loved to love. As we arrived, I tried to blend in with the crowd…of whom I did not know a single soul. Going to a wedding as a last minute date felt a little like eating at a restaurant, alone. Little out of my comfort zone. But did I mention there was a band? And oceanside views?

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The ceremony was gorgeous, and I’m actually not talking about the seascape. Seeing the bride come down over the grassy hill, her Mom and Dad on each arm, I began to cry. Such a sweet, sweet sight. Such LOVE. The way Dad looked at his daughter’s radiant smile, the way Mom’s fingers were so tightly sheathed around her youngest daughter’s hand. And the dimples on the bride’s face so visible, her face beaming like the bright sun.

For a moment, my less than splendid day got a whole lot worse as old movie reels began to play in my head surrounding my own parents’ divorce. And as I thought about parenting my own children without a partner by my side. But lest I get swept away by my own sentimental seas, the ceremony continued with beautiful music and words, each reading recited with heartfelt affection. In what felt like a minute, with the ocean so mesmerizing and glimmering behind their heads, the bride and her groom were married, sealed airtight with a kiss, and the lively reception began.

I mingled. And mangled. A couple conversations. Still a little unable to turn around my day, I pushed myself to socialize and meet new people. Everywhere I went, there was tremendous girl power. It seemed every woman there owned her own butt-kicking business or had penned a book that I added to my mental bookshelf, or was a wellness educator or a love coach or who was simply and wildly, compellingly awesome.

As a group, we collectively danced to the band as if we’d all won the golden ticket to the best concert of our lives. The vibration in the room, if you can call a tent next to the ocean a room, was sky-scraping. The energy was buzzing – so much that I felt if I reached out and touched an arm, the arm of a stranger –  there would be an electrical stream of some kind, permeating my soul.

When I finally came face to face with the beautiful bride, she pulled me in for a titanic hug. So glad you could be here, she said in my ear. It’s so… perfect. And then. That current. That SPARK.

KAPOW. 

These people are all so HAPPY, is what I’d thought just a few hours before. These people have found Utopia and apparently it exists right here in Southern Maine.

Yet I’ve studied enough about yoga and Buddhism to know that these people actually hadn’t found Utopia at all. They’d created it themselves. Each of them, in their own way, had made a choice. Carve out a space of contentment and live there. Or retreat into a place where you’re always searching. Searching and fact finding for a supreme sense of well-being that GUESS WHAT?

Already resides inside of you.

I know this to be true, this was not a newsflash. But this concentrated version? This extensive group of specialized awesomeness all in one latitude?

They were sending me a message.

You woke to a not so special day. You’re feeling a little dispirited.

So lift yourself up again. And this time, try living there.

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It doesn’t mean there won’t be another lousy day. Or that those we love won’t pass on. Or that illness won’t become a part of our own immediate landscape.

This life cycle, it happens. I wholeheartedly understand that.

But it does mean — and this is a choice — that contentment is available to you. It’s simply a matter of opening your heart up enough to reach out and capture it.

 

 

She’s a poet and she knows it.

Growing up, the thing I always liked most about summer was its speed.

So slooooow.

It suited me so well then. It still does. My get up and go pretty much ups and leaves come June 1. My body craves the sound of the ocean, the bright blue sky days with sun blaring overhead and cloud conversations softly sailing by (that one looks like a man’s profile! that one, a unicorn!). The warmth of the heavy evening air. The feel of crisp, cool sheets on the bed and the trilling of birdsong out my window.

God, it’s so good.

Go ahead and grab some for yourself. Grab it with all you’ve got.

It’s a quick season — even in all of its slow splendor.

 

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The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Honoring Maya

Powerful words from the beautiful Maya Angelou, who passed away last week at the age of 86. I feel a strong connection to her words. I hope you might, too.

“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.

I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’  I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.

I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

Standing in the Fire

Inspired by my friend, Erin, I’ll be posting poetry here once a week. If it resonates, terrific. If it doesn’t, maybe read it again. :-)

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THE INVITATION

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

 — Oriah Mountain Dreamer

[Artwork by joeandcheryl.com]

Motherboard

Lately I find myself doing too much. Too much around the house. Too much outside of the house. Too much brainstorming, too much tidying, too much errand-running, too much picking up of the cat poop. Too much driving, too much rushing, too much cooking, which then brings that dreaded cleaning part.

Too much time spent in my head.

Oof. That’s the hardest one.

Maybe that’s why I’ve had a headache for three weeks. 

Yet how to get away from it? I can’t just lock it up, go on vacation. It’s a BRAIN. Things are pretty freestyle up there.

So, you know what I’m going to say, right?

Yoga. It all comes back to that for me. I realized — as most yoga teachers do at some point in their teaching — that I wasn’t working on my own practice. And if I was, it was to “practice” teaching. (Brain to self: Did I already do the twist on the left side??)

Gee, that’s relaxing.

Spending more time on my mat means bringing the yoga teachings into my everyday life. Into my every. single. day. When I connect with my breath, it’s as if the world comes ever so slightly back to its axis. Sure. There will be slip-ups and PMS and a day from hell. But at its core, yoga nurtures and feeds the spirit. It reaches back behind the motherboard (I don’t really know what that is either) and starts to rewire the brain. It fires up new neurons.

You, old dog. Yoga, new tricks.

Let’s not forget: doing the actual poses, that’s awesome. But yoga is much more than that. It’s the time spent on the mat that preps you for the rest of your day/week/month spent off the mat.

Yoga on the mat + off the mat. It’s the perfect marriage.

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For those of you don’t practice yoga, or think the postures (asanas) are too hard or too slow or too sweaty or too boring or too woo woo, I assure you it’s not. Maybe you want to lose weight, or calm your anxiety, or maybe you want to restore both your mind and spirit (there’s nothing maybe about that). If yes, give it a try. And then give it a try again.

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You may not reach enlightenment with one practice. But you’ll have put yourself on the very road to get there.

She liked it.

The other day I spent half the day cleaning out and organizing my 9-year old’s bedroom.

She’s in training for Hoarders, something had to be done.

Silly Bandz, Rainbow Loom elastics, books upon books upon books, so many that she could institute her own personal Dewey decimal system. Gobs of Polly Pockets (have you ever stepped barefooted on a Polly Pocket doll? It’s an 8 on a pain scale of 1-10), lone American Girl socks, several broken necklaces, endless supplies of sea glass, 19 acorn caps, several reams of stickers, probably 52 dried out markers, 5 booklights that don’t work, koala bears that cling to pencils, the contents of 17 goodie bags, and Valentines from the last three years of school. This was just the first bin.

Did I mention the number of animals on her bed?

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What can I say about my earnest yet life-curious let’s-bring-in-all-my-stuff-for-a-hug kind of girl?

Collector girl.

Adventure girl.

Collector of song lyrics and gum wrapper girl.

Lover of all things animal/nature/theater/the written word girl. Hater of any of the above being passed along or, gasp, thrown away.

So let’s just say I tidied up a bit. Did a furniture re-org. Made some space on her dresser and hung a few pictures. It felt good — it looked even better.

When she came home home from school and walked into her new room, she blurted out, “Wait a minute. Wait. just. a. minute. You redid my room and DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME?”

The fury.

I braced myself. I could handle it. It needed to happen.

She flopped down into the beanbag, her new reading nook, and flashed a giant smile.

“I LOVE IT. This is the nicest room a girl could ever ask for. Thanks, Mom.”

Relief. She liked it.

She paused, looked pensively out the window, thin slats of afternoon sun falling over her hair and face.

“It’s just missing one thing,” she said.

“Oh?”

“Well,” she paused. “A ball pit. I’ve kind of always wanted one. Like, with a bridge — so you can jump into it.”

Right.  A ball pit. Maybe next time.

 

SIT BACK AND NAMASTE AWHILE

It’s official! I’M A YOGI!

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{photo credit: Darren Setlow}

ELLEN –> YOGA TEACHER

Or would that be Ellen COMMA Yoga Teacher?

Of course, this means I have to actually teach yoga to be a teacher but hey – one class down, copious amounts of awesome classes to go.

I. AM. SO. EXCITED.

And, hey, I’m blogging again. That’s pretty super.

[My resume is blowing up as I type this.]

Of course, I’m still a mama to my girls. My internal life-skills-meter just keeps rising.

Why? Because turning 40 was good for me. Turning 41 was even better. Life is SO beautiful. Each day, a freaking gift. And I’m choosing to grab hold of all of it. Maybe even by the balls.

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I’ve earned my wings over the last couple of years, and becoming certified as a yoga teacher was just what I needed…that push out of the nest. Caring less for what people might think about me, and a whole lot more for how I perceive myself. Holding space for people in my heart, absolutely. But having compassion for my own gifts, too. We could all could use more of that, right?

A little self-love never hurt anyone.

Stay tuned for yoga classes, or contact me for private instruction. Pass my name along. I may not be Instagramming selfie handstands while on a paddle board in Costa Rica…(not yet anyway), but I promise you that I am a well trained, very accessible, and thoughtful teacher whose life has been changed by this practice and its teachings.

At the very least, follow along with me and maybe you’ll learn something about meditation, maybe learn a new pose. Or perhaps you’ll simply get a laugh or two, because — I admit — I try my best to offer up some of those.

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A couple of chuckles, some Namastes.

LAUGHTER AND LOVE. THE BEST MEDICINE.