Spring Tidings

The turning of seasons always brings forth a renewal of the mind, the body, and the spirit. It is in the shadows we reveal our true characters. In the depths of winter’s despair I withered, but in the sunlit corners of spring, I can shake the cobwebs of the ego and step into the light of who I choose to become.

I always find it astonishing how change can truly set me reeling or is it realizing? In a fight, flight or freeze state of being I often choose freeze and breathe, and then internally I would like to flee. However, the ties that bind hold me firm and my heart knows what’s best, but my mind does not always follow.

Wading through the world in pandemonium and in the tides of postpartum has not been an easy task. As insurmountable as the mind may be, there are times when I have to face the truth which is exhaustion and fatigue are ill suited when you’re a parent, but they are none the less the cloaks handed out for free during the care of young children’s daily lives.

I saw a meme recently of parental sleep feeling like the following: baby is down for sleep, parent face plants on bed, an alarm or the baby calls and the parent jumps back up. That pretty much sums up how I felt on some days. Everything is magnified during this time, for every human being on the planet. Be it naysayer, be it believer, be it scientist, be it politician, nurse, teacher, or child care worker, everyone is tired. Tired being a relative term with a thousand layers of meaning. However, there is one thing that remains constant ticking by every moment of the day: time.

Time, that elusive shark, always showing itself on the surface and sliding back down beneath the waves. Just when I feel that sense of, “caught up,” I settle back in for a sure fire wash of reality. Often I find myself watching time slip by when I get caught up with my to do lists, or while playing a game of what if, but one things brings me back to reality and that is: love.

She’s that warm cloud of purple that bubbles up and fills my heart when I’m overwhelmed. Sometimes she helps shed tears that relinquish all of the feelings that have been simmering. Other times she makes me laugh uproariously at the hilarity that is a three year old ‘s mind. Most days I feel a warm kindling deep inside knowing that I am loved, and that I get to love others. Then I settle into the realization that in essence, that is truly everything. As Elton John said…to love and be loved in return.

So, when you find yourself being over or under whelmed, or awash with the current rules, regulations, and regularity of your days, stop and remember what love you get to feel and who you get to share it with.

We are in the midst of Pesach. The holiday that always makes me feel the sense of hope and loss intertwined as one. I cannot help but pause and think of what the past year has brought forth for those fellow humans who have loved and lost. I always go back to the voice of Debbie Friedman with her beautiful song, Mi Shebeirach. I included the lyrics below as a source of inspiration to those in need of healing. Spring is here, and with it a new opportunity for life. I hope it is one filled with love and a garden of possibility.  

I wanna hold your hand dada.
Colorful tulips, my favorite.
Filled with the promise of sunshine.
Beauty in the trees.
Tiny blooms for my babe.

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,and let us say, Amen.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avotein
u
Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah,
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit, And let us say, Amen.”

-Debbie Friedman.

Sisterhood

Every year as December 21 approaches and passes I am filled with more emotions than I can explain. Most of them leave me with twinges of sadness or longing, but today I feel more than that. I feel fully grateful now.

When my sister died, I felt like an invisible tether was cut and my lifeline floated away with her. 

Then, with time’s passing I realized that the many humans in my life could help me regain my tether and form a new lifeline, if I let them. I’m grateful for all the family and the friends that shed light over the last five years time. I have learned more than I could possibly explain, but most importantly I have come to realize that gratitude is the key component to making my days robust. 

I am grateful for the circle of friends, (thank you to Maeve Binchy for your book to reference, but I digress), specifically the women who have become pieces of a sister puzzle in my life. I have learned that no one can or ever will replace or fill the shoes of my birth sibling. But here’s the thing, perhaps even the secret to understanding my personal loss and grief is this: time heals all wounds, or rather time transforms everything

I can now see that Debbie and I had the fullest relationship and set of experiences that taught me lessons, filled me with joy and hope, and can still make me laugh today. That was the true gift that time bestowed upon us, our memories and the moments that we shared. 

Now, I can clearly look at my other relationships that have blossomed in my garden. I know that each woman knows how grateful I am for them, but sometimes it’s helpful to say it out loud: Thank you. 

Thank you to the friends and family who have helped shape a new meaning of sisterhood for me. Thank you for sharing your little people when loss filled my life. Thank you for sharing a momento as a reminder of love I can wear every day.  Thank you for reading my blog and holding my hand from afar. Thank you for covering me with prayers and kindness when waves crashed down. Thank you for sharing humor and holidays when I missed that sense of knowing someone else’s thoughts on familiar days. Thank you for dropping off food, letters and care packages when I had tiny humans to hold and feed. Thank you for writing, texting, and calling me when fear and judgement clouded my mind and I sought refuge in your council.  Thank you for reaching out and sharing your gifts of time. Thank you for filling tea and coffee cups and holding my hand. Thank you for passing the cupcakes and saying eat up without judgement. Thank you for welcoming me to your city and showing me new adventures. Thank you for shedding advice on love, loss, and motherhood when the going got rough. Thank you for answering my texts, calls, and keeping a connection going, even with distance and time. Thank you for allowing new bridges to be built and time to heal. Thank you for holding me in hugs and allowing tears to flow without explanation. Thank you for sharing your weekend days and time to meet and chat. Thank you for holding my tiny baby boys and filling their hearts with love.  But most of all, thank you for allowing me the space, holding space and time and loving me just the way I am. 

You know that if you read this and connected in some way, I’m giving you a virtual hug and that I love you. 

Thank you.

Gratitude exemplified through joy and laughter.

Perspective

How would your perspective change if I told you that you were picked for this life specifically. This moment, this time, this year, these people, your surroundings? How would that make you feel? Would you be startled? Would you shift or change? 

When I began to shift my mindset about the seeming, “hardships,” I experienced, my heart opened up. I’m not here to cast a stone and say that whatever it is that each of us is facing doesn’t feel how it feels. That’s not what I’m saying, but what I am trying to articulate is this: if you can take ownership of your feeling and harness it, then you can drive your ship.

Every moment is made up of these micro experiences. These experiences become your vision and a part of your memory. Which in turn, becomes the story that you tell yourself about your life. What if you paused and considered that you can harness those emotions and shift your perspective. 

In my current moment I am sitting on a bed, with a pillow table, earplugs in my ears, smoke covering my neighborhood, poor air quality, and thirty minutes of time to write. I asked for the time. I asked for this plate, this life, these people. When I look around me I could see: all of the things I think I should see, but if I stop skimming over the surface and look deeper I can see: all of the ways I affect those around me in turn. 

Outside of my house the smoke is so thick that I can barely see the trees in the neighborhood park. The beloved home state I live is literally burning and the world feels like it is upending upon itself. I realized when I woke up today, day three of smoke filled lungs that I had the opportunity to pause and truly ground myself. If I feel my head spinning, if I feel my heart wrenching, how is that in turn affecting those around me? My responses are powerful and they are directly driven by the effects of a mood. There is little else that I feel like I have control over right now. But I do have control over my mind, which, if I admit it: is everything. Your mind is the epicenter of everything you are capable of doing and have done. 

As Maya Angelou once said, “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.” 

As I say to my two year old, “Feelings come and feelings go, feelings show, it’s alright to cry, it might make you feel better,” a mish-mash of quotes from, Free To Be You And Me. With all of this being said, I encourage myself, and you to to think about your perspective. Health is wealth, if I have that and my family, I have everything. That’s my perspective and I know that with endurance of mind and spirit I can lean into perseverance, which is key. 

Morning Glory

If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be a morning person someday, I probably would have scoffed at you. I have always, and by nature will be a night owl. However, with small children, the early, wee hours of the morning have become my sacred space. I am an introvert and as such, crave and need alone time. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely grateful for my family and companionship, as human beings we all require this for healthy development, but I fill my tank sans other humans, aka solo. 

When you care for small, young human beings, it takes patience, consistency, and care. When I am depleted, one of those tasks does not function at full capacity and the deficit shows in my child’s behavior in response to mine. In turn, I have learned that if I power through and think about how I will feel, later on, I will get moving sooner. I will skip the extra hour of snooze time which, invariably may lead to grogginess or a headache, for my quiet, hooded, writing/reading/meditation time in the sunrise hours. 

The first person I can think of that was a morning person was my grandpa. Grandpa Woody would get moving at dawn, I could smell his aftershave and coffee in the hallway as I padded down our carpeted stairs to the kitchen. He would greet me with a hug and a whiskered kiss. I can still feel his scruff, see his lips, and sense the texture of his short sleeved button down shirt. One early morning together, on his visit to the land up north, I looked at his forearm and said, “What’s that?” What, I was unaware of, was my grandfather’s tattoo he had chosen during his time in the CCC camps, working as a cook. “That,” he replied, “Is a mistake of my youth,” and he promptly unrolled his dress shirt sleeve and buttoned the white button around his wrist. This interaction became a story that I have gone back to in my head from time to time. I thought of it when I was younger and contemplating large, permanent decisions for myself. Those early mornings with Grandpa are still as vivid to me as my first home of childhood. It’s funny how something can stick with you like gum, glued to my brain, forever a part of my minds eye. The Hipsher side of my heart is a morning glory, and the Cohen side is a night owl. Two birds of a different feather, so to speak. 

As I write these words, I can see the light from the sunshine streaming through my Ikea curtains. The tree branches in the wetland behind our home forming a backdrop for the sun’s rays. The early hours provide for me, a semblance of solitude, a feeling of ‘what if,’ time to reflect and create with the fluidity of thought. I think that, in essence, is what I find challenging as a parent, as well as, when I was teaching.

I need quiet to think clearly, I have to pause and reflect. It’s just part of my core, and I communicate it, most of the time, to my family. If I am in the midst of one task, I need to pause, physically and mentally before moving to the next one. I function at a high level, don’t get me wrong, I am the queen of multi-tasking, but, when an idea needs thorough consideration, I have to set aside the distractors before truly considering and communicating. 

I taught my son how to, “Take a break,” and he will verbalize this in his own play time that he narrates so articulately, all. day. long. <Insert laugh and heart bubbles here.> He often says mid play, “Take a break mommy, take a break,” and he will pause, sit, or stop his motion for a few seconds before resuming full speed and charge ahead.

If a little person can realize the power of this and put it into practice, I wonder if more adults could? Perhaps that is the secret silver lining of the quarantine time we find ourselves still living in. Take time to reflect before: acting, saying, and doing. Consider what is in front of you before you decide to do, say, be, or go somewhere. If we all better understood what our tanks or hearts are desiring, perhaps there would be less reaction and better action. So the next time you find yourself at the cross roads of a decision, take a break. STOP your body, your mind, your tongue and: Think, about the option, reflect about the choice, and then move forward. No one else can make a decision for you about how you feel and if you feel better, positive, hopeful, grateful, loving, then your feelings will melt into your interactions which shed light or darkness in our world. 

The Art of Letter Writing

What do letters mean to you? They’ve always been the connection that I had to friends and family who lived far away. And, let’s face it, when you live in Anchorage, Alaska, everyone and everything feels quite far away.  My first pen pal was my Grandpa Woody. He was my cowboy grandpa who would come up for a visit every November to spend Thanksgiving with us, most years. I would look forward to my monthly and holiday letters. I loved his spring time letters too. He would write to me in his fashionable cursive handwriting that I would decipher slowly, being the emerging reader that I was. I can vividly remember opening a letter one spring, probably in late March or early April and tucked inside was a furry gray pussy willow bud that he had gathered from a tree outside of his house. The opening of that letter has stuck with me to this day. His letters are now bundled together with a ribbon alongside my sister’s letters for safe keeping.

My second pen pal was my sister. She was ten years older than me and left home for college shortly before her eighteenth birthday. I vividly remember the day she left.  The leaves clung to the branches with a foreboding coldness, brilliant maroon, yellow, and brown hanging by thin invisible threads, similar to how my heart felt when she drove away in dad’s pickup.

She would write to me weekly, send me updates on all the happenings in the lower forty eight, the seasons, the sounds, and the adventures she took. Some of my favorite letters were enclosed with photographs of her adventures or cartoon drawings she created to entertain her tiny sibling. I loved it all. I would mail her cards and drawings, long letters that mom and dad helped me spell out letter by letter. When you’re a dyslexic writer of seven, things take a little bit longer to complete. One Hannukah I received a tape recorder box with a giant speaker and microphone. I recorded a sung letter to Debbie that ended with a rousing rendition of, “Puff The Magic Dragon.” I’m sure the tape is long gone, but I know she remembered that particular letter/package and the enclosed demo. Ha! Who knew that all these years later I would pull out the letters of the past and read her words to hear her voice again. Her letters bring me comfort and make me laugh aloud even now.

The most indelible thing about a letter is that you know the person who wrote it for you, held it, cared enough to write it, and mailed it with love. It always felt like such a gift to receive a letter from someone in the mail.  I want my son to know what that feels like as both the sender and the receiver. So, letters we write together, each season and each holiday. I think it’s important to take time to think about those in your life that you care about and pause enough to reflect upon that and give them a token of your heart.

I had the idea to begin a blog this past fall, to mark the passing of time in a daily way, that perhaps our son could look back upon one day. I decided to use the voice of our beloved dog Kimmy to narrate our daily adventures together. In a way I feel like I am giving him a small piece of what I have in the letters I have kept and cherished throughout the years from family members.

What else can we draw from as humans except knowing that the passage of time is marked in human history through the written word. So I leave you with this thought: think about the last time you wrote a letter, and why. Now, who could you write to today and thank, make laugh, or draw a smile from when they open their mail box and see it waiting for them?

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Spring Thoughts for 2020.

Four Years Gone

You know what the funny thing about death is? Nothing. (Cue the sound effects please. I’m completely aware of the first line’s seriousness.)

What is funny however, is how death can make everything illuminated after the fog has lifted. By fog I mean, your initial emotions, the pain, the constant reminders, it’s the sense that comes after a storm has ceased. I would liken the passing of a loved one to experiencing a fierce storm in your own body that takes time to progress and then begin to calm.

It has been four years, to the day, since Debbie passed away. If I stop and mediate on that day, what transpired, how I felt in those moments, I am taken back to those emotions quite rapidly. Even with the passage of time, nothing can erase how an experience made you feel. I remember saying to my husband, “Now I know why people drink and do drugs. The numbness is a medication to what they’re experiencing in life. This hurts.”

Everything in life is a lesson. Once I understood this, fully, I became more present and open to facing the choices I had every day, and really, in every moment.  Learning how to grieve, face pain, and move through life with it, was and still is a journey. There are times, days, and moments when I am hit severely with a wave of grief that washes over me. I try to recognize my triggers, sometimes it’s just something as simple as a word, or a song. I find it helpful to create a visual of a wave and allow it to wash over me and provide a salve of tears. Nothing and no one can replace a loss because it is an experience that is now a part of your very core. The loss becomes woven into your story. It becomes a part of the framework that trails along with you every day.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have learned that I am not my grief, it is a part of me. I lean heavily on the truthful, beautiful, harsh, and comical memories I shared with the amazing person that Debbie was. Carving out an allowance of grace for my emotions and journey is essential. Continuing to learn about how the human brain processes trauma, loss, and growth has helped me tremendously be more empathetic towards myself and others.

If I could tell my sister anything it would be this:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for always loving me, even when I was hard to love. Even though you’re not here physically, you’re always near to me and in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m using my elephant memory that you said you’d rely on. You’re still teaching me so many things, thank you. You’d be so proud of your son. He’s grown tall, and handsome and he is still really sweet. He knows how to be kind and he can be humbled by life which is key. He’s so loved and he’s doing fine. He loves his cousin Leo, who holds your initials. You’d love your nephew too. He’s a spunky, book loving toddler who is obsessed, with your Declan. He calls him, “Yea-Yea,” and tries to talk to him with every phone call that comes in. We’re all ok. I love you more every day.

Love,

Your little Sister

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Fall Thoughts

sunflower pic

The end of August is always an incredibly busy time for many people. It is especially so for educators that start their new year of teaching. For the past eleven years I was one of those teachers who would plan, prep, sweat, and build my classroom for the coming school year. Not so this year. My husband and I decided to switch roles after he interviewed and was offered a job. We traded spaces as teachers to be with our son. The largest gift in life is time. No one can buy it or give you more of it. With this being said, the shift of how a person spends their time greatly impacts them as an individual.

Thus, my time and priorities have shifted this fall. There is one thing that remains constant for me and that is the inner teacher, the guide, and the desire to share. So, with all of this being said, I decided to share more regularly, what I am: reading, what I am reading, cooking, doing, watching or inspired by.

READING:

~We re-read, “Roller Girl,” by Victoria Jamieson, I say, “we,” because Leo helped me read it throughout morning snuggles and diaper changes.

http://www.victoriajamieson.com/books/

~Currenly I am reading, “burnout the secret to unlocking the stress cycle,” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. I have a hard time putting this book down, I talk about it with everyone I know, thank you to my beloved friend for sharing this work with me.

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/592377/burnout-by-emily-nagoski-phd-and-amelia-nagoski-dma/9781984817068/

~Leo absolutely loves, Gyo Fujikawa’s children’s book work:

*A Child’s Book of Poems

*Oh, What a Busy day!

*Baby Animals

*A to Z: picture book

gyo fujikawa book pic

There is something timeless about her illustrations. He is transported to the world of the babies in the pictures and he’ll pull her books off of the shelf to read again and again. He loves recognizing other babies, animals he knows, and saying the sounds they make.

There are a couple of interesting youtube videos about her work with Disney and the ethics in the theater available for perusing, as well as a great Newyorker article linked below.

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/how-gyo-fujikawa-drew-freedom-in-childrens-books

LISTENING TO:

*Podcast: Levar Burton Reads. This evokes the childhood reader in me. I am transported back to reading rainbow days with Levar’s voice and I absolutely LOVE. IT.

Watching:

*BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee’s film is hands down, the best movie I have watched in the last year. Do yourself a favor and watch it, read about Ron Stallworth’s life and work in Colorado. It is chilling how true to form the ideology of his experience is still true today.

*Nikkivegan: This woman’s youtube channel has really impacted my cooking life. I became inspired over summer to make a new recipe each week. Here was one of our favorites linked below! Easy potato taquitos and bean salad. Tasty!

Exercise:

Something that is a daily activity for me is some sort of physical exercise. We take two walks on average with our dog and baby. I have been trying to wake up and do yoga most week day mornings and it has great impacted my mood, outlook, and mobility for the day. A friend recommended: Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube and I love her work. One of my happy places in town is Diva Den Studio, and it is a place where I can exercise, connect, laugh, dance, and sweat to recharge my batteries.

Challenge:

I have been challenging myself to use my time more mindfully. There is nothing quite like having a young child to put your view of time into focus. This is a daily challenge for me because I can be easily side tracked, interested, or fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling. Sometimes I put myself on a fast from social media in order to refocus on the priorities I have for myself. This often times helps me to be more cognizant and truly appreciate the season, my personal goals, and the quiet times I spend with family.

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7:04

Time has a way of bringing significance to something that you never really considered in the moment. Seven hours and four minutes into the evening in 2018, our son was born. On July fourth, 7-04-2017 we found out we were expecting a child. Up until this moment, on our baby’s birthday, I had not realized the significance.

Life has a funny way of bringing things full circle. Here we are, numbers, moments and life at play later. These events roll past, the day moves by, and we look back over our shoulder at the impact these events have made in the tapestry of our lives.

I had not paid much attention to all of our little one’s numerology, but the idea behind the moment of his birth and the date we learned of his existence, is purely beshert.

Nothing can quite explain the feeling of hearing your child’s cry for the first time, and holding them close. I waited years for him to come. In the first moment he looked at me, and I at him, it felt as though time stood still, and spun around all at once. There are very few things in life that I am sure of, but one of those is the fact that I was always meant to be LDB’s mama. Thank you for choosing us as your parents little one.

L’Chaim!

Risk

What is the biggest risk you have taken in your life?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the risk to stop giving into fear and instead, turning around, metaphorically speaking, and facing it.

For the longest time I was fearful of a great number of things. These included but were not limited to: Saying no, standing up for myself, tolerating bullshit from friends and relationships, worrying about things I could not change, fearing the worst when falling ill, and reading articles about all the, “what if’s,” that could happen in my life.

Then, in the course of one month, over three weeks, I learned a lesson: all things can go wrong, shit has hit the fan, and I am still standing. I am still here. 

I attempted to make lemonade out of the lemons I was dealt. Nothing motivates you more than facing that fear and realizing how ludicrous it is to give into it. Another motivating factor is realizing how imperative the nature of today, really is. The gift of this breath, and the moment you are being given when the person you love, whose hand you were holding, slipped away before your eyes. Life never simply prepares you to deal with the tragic, it merely provides you with experiences in which to learn that you are capable of handling it, because of the experiences that propelled you until you reached the edge of the mountain.

There were a few things that propelled me into 2016:

One: My sister’s death.

Two: Having two car accidents over the course of a month.

Three: Seeing a positive pregnancy result, seeing blood weeks later, and learning that it was not an actual viable pregnancy, but a molar one.

Four: Being told that the D&C was successful, only to find out that the betaHCG results had risen ten fold, I needed a chest X-ray to make sure cells had not traveled and multiplied in my body forming cancerous masses, receiving an internal ultrasound twice, and then taking chemotherapy shots in order to resolve the issue.

Five: Going weekly for six weeks to see an oncologist and receive chemo shots for an unviable pregnancy after walking similar pathways with my sister the year before for different reasons.

Life has a way of providing opportunities for rebirth.

That was my moment.

I hit my rock bottom on a cold, dreary day in January after leaving the hospital. I drove home in a wash of tears and bathed my sorrows away. Later, I found myself still grappling with many frustrations in the aftermath of grief for multiple reasons. I happened upon a video and blog that changed the course of my life. Gabrielle Bernstein’s work propelled me to make a dramatic shift. I cannot say how grateful I am for the book I read, May Cause Miracles, and the course work I practiced. I opened myself up to facing my ego, learning from my fears I had clung to, learning about my desire for control and deciding to grow as a human and not cower in the shadows of comfort.

Here’s the thing: it is never easy to take a risk. Be it in a small change, or a large shift in your life. However, in doing so, committing to the risk will invariably provide you with room for growth. Change does not happen over night. It happens in your daily thoughts, routines, and the patterns that you pave in life.

Risk is what you make of a situation, not what makes you falter.

Butterfly Heart

Sometimes someone who knows you well says just what your heart needs to hear. “Don’t let yourself be hardened by the world Rachel. Don’t close yourself off from those feelings. Enjoy those times and keep your heart open.”

(Insert tears that spring forward.)

Something about this time of year is challenging for me, for a number of reasons. So I reflected and realized a few things.

Each school year I am reminded of the fresh opportunity I have to work with the next generation. I am so reminded and reminisce on how I would share with my sister our plans for the next school year. To say that miss her is an understatement, it is a yearning I feel in my soul and always will.

Everything changes in an instant, in a moment. The only constant is change, this I know. I have watched my baby boy growing like a weed over the last five months and it feels like just yesterday he was in the womb kicking me to let me know he was there. I look at him and I wonder who this little person will be. I watch him in wonderment as he observes the world.

Whenever I read a new book or see a, back to school book list, I stop and think about Debbie. Occasionally I still have a mind slip and think of telling her something. It’s like a small heart tug when that happens. A little pull each time I long for communication.

This school year I am excited for the new group of students to work with, the new and old book friends that I will get to share with them are inspirations from Debbie. I can’t wait to share with my students and continue to tell our son how this amazing librarian auntie of his still touches lives today.

We always read one of her favorite books to LDB each day, The Very Hungry Caterpillar 🐛. Much like in the book, I felt enveloped in a cocoon these past five months. I am ready to spread my wings and fly, but unfurling the wings and jumping off is always the hardest part. 🦋