Archive for the ‘Dear Friends Letters from Isabella, our sister site’ Category

Taking That First Step

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I am hooked on all the home decorating shows that are so popular now. Whether it is a do-it-yourself show, or a have-someone-do-it-for-you show, I’m there. Maybe part of the reason I am so into these shows is that my family and I have been living in a perpetual state of remodeling for the last several years. We bought our house 11 years ago, knowing that it would take ‘quite a while’ to get it into the state we wanted. The house was built in the early 1970’s, with the shag carpet and redwood siding to prove it. The kitchen didn’t have any cabinet doors and the floor was a cement slab, but the multi-levels and huge windows in every room captivated us. Even the lack of an oven didn’t dissuade us. You’d be surprised how well cookies turn out when baked in the barbeque. Well, after several years, we were finally ready to get started. The boys, of course, were convinced their bedrooms wouldn’t be finished until after they left for college, but I am happy to report they are now moved into their rooms and the oldest won’t graduate from high school until later this year. Ha!

One of the reasons we were so hesitant to start on this massive undertaking was that we were terrified of doing it ‘wrong.’ How would we know if we picked the right colors for the walls or the right flooring? There were so many details and so many choices for each thing that at times we were paralyzed with indecision. Finally, we just started. (I use the term ‘we’ rather loosely. I didn’t offer much in the way of physical labor; I was busy trying to regulate the temperature in the barbeque, but I did offer a lot in the way of support and ideas.)

Now, when I stand in my gorgeous, magazine-worthy kitchen (thank you, Scotty and Dad) and inhale the delicious aroma of dinner roasting in one oven while dessert bakes in the other, I think back on how uncertainty limited us for so many years, when all we had to do was take the first step. We finally stopped worrying about what anyone else would think of the choices we made. We weren’t doing all of this work for anyone other than ourselves and we needed to make it work for our family and no one else. I am trying to apply this lesson to other areas of my life as well. Some decisions are more critical than others, but when I remember that I am unique and that what is best for me and my family may not be best for someone else, it is easier to take the first step. Even if I have to pause and change my course a little, as long as I listen to my heart I know the end result will be beautiful.

I Think it’s Time

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

”I think it’s time,” my friend Kathleen said as she looked at the wilted tangle of vines hanging from the basket on my patio. Last summer, they were a lush tumble of bright blue morning glories. The thought of now chucking the whole shebang into the compost bin felt a little harsh to me. After all, I had known these vines from the time they were little seeds in a packet!

I know I’m not alone in sometimes hanging on to things that no longer add any value to my life. Some of us stay in relationships way past their shelf life, others stubbornly refuse to lose the spare tire ’round our middle, and others fiercely hold on to our big hair like it’s 1987. Instead of making way for the new, we rationalize our resistance with all kinds of excuses: ”If I lose weight, I won’t be able to wear all my beautiful clothes.” ”If I rip out these dead vines, I will admit defeat as a gardener. (Besides, it’s not like the whole plant is dead. Every morning, there’s one blossom that looks great.)” But for someone who has always followed William Morris’ words ”Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” since when is 99.9% dead a keeper for me?

Mother Nature’s got it down with spring. There are no stuck places in Nature. Everything runs its natural course, so there’s a beautiful flow that ultimately results in new life, new beauty. But what do we do? We hold on, even when what we have is 99% ugly. We hold on to our pain, anger, and resentment, and we wonder why we experience headaches, depression, and possibly even cancer?

We need to welcome spring into our beings. As Kathleen says, ”I think it’s time.” Let’s ask ourselves what it’s time to let go of. Spring is the perfect time to say goodbye to everything from that volunteer job that no longer brings joy to that 4-year-old jar of capers left over from the company picnic.

My hanging basket is once again an object of joy and beauty, this time with orange nasturtiums and blue and white allysum. I don’t miss the 1% of beauty my one lone morning glory blossom brought me. My basket reminds me of the importance of letting go and clearing space for the new. And if I feel this good after replanting a hanging basket, cleaning out my bedroom closet could very well catapult me into nirvana. Wishing you all a springtime of release and renewal!

Choose Love, Not Fear

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Recently, I stayed at the house of some friends to take care of their animals while they were on vacation. I was working away when I heard their cat’s cries coming from the garage. The garage is Muffin’s private place where she can eat in peace and not have to worry about the family’s two dogs wanting to sample any of her feline fare. She was now signaling me that she wanted to rejoin ‘the family’ in the light and warmth of the house.

Of course, I happily came to her ‘rescue’ and opened the door for the now nearly frantic cat. Judging by her plaintive cries, I expected her to leap into the house the moment I opened the door. Instead, she stopped crying and just sat there in silence. ‘Come on, Muffin,’ I encouraged her. But it was a no go. So, I shut the door and returned to my work. Within minutes, the cries began again; this time, even more fervent. Once again, I stopped what I was doing and went to open the door. And, once again, Muffin just sat there, motionless, not making a sound. I began feeling annoyed, but not as annoyed as when we had done this dance perhaps another four times. There seemed to be no logic to the steps in this dance. Clearly, the cat wanted to be in the house instead of in the garage. Who wouldn’t? The garage was cold, dark, and musty smelling. The house was warm, cozily lit, and a virtual haven for any self-respecting cat in need of an honest catnap. After the third go-round, it became apparent that Muffin’s reticence was due to her fear of the dogs. Mind you, she lives with these dogs day in and day out; they have never harmed her in any way (well, except for their innocent curiosity regarding those little cans of Tasty Trout Dinner). But the point is these were not wild dogs from the Barrio — they were family.

Finally, Muffin made a run for it and settled down on an easy chair in the family room. The dogs hardly even acknowledged her entrance, and I thought, ‘All that time wasted on an irrational fear!’

I can’t tell you how many times I experienced the ‘Muffin Dance’ this past week. There was the woman in my support group who had been complaining about her job since I joined the group six months ago. The scenario seemed all too familiar to me: to remain in the cold garage and complain about it or to take some action that would enable her to experience light and warmth. Amazingly, like Muffin, this woman chose to stay in the garage. Her wild dogs came in the form of ‘not being able to deal with rejection right now,’ which might occur if she were to look for another job.

With the New Year approaching, I began exploring the musty garage experiences in my own life. What ‘wild dogs’ are holding me back in fear? And, more importantly, what choices will I make in response to my fears? What thoughts will I choose to enter my mind? What thoughts will I choose to release? And, more importantly, what action will I take in hopes of enhancing my life experience? I can choose to be a victim in the dark or I can choose to live abundantly in the light. One thing I know for sure is that when doors open before me in 2010, I’m leaping inside at the first opportunity.

Paying it Forward

Monday, October 26th, 2009

There’s a man here in our area who is called the San Diego Highwayman. Sixty-something, he is a gardener — not only a backyard gardener, but a gardener sewing the seeds of kindness on our interstates. A former mechanic, Thomas Weller spends a big chunk of his time cruising local highways in his own “Search and Rescue” station wagon, on the lookout for someone having a roadside emergency. He says there’s just too much anger, distrust, and fear in this world and by offering a helping hand he hopes to be doing a little to make the world a kinder place. It all started 40 years ago, when he plowed into an Illinois snow bank and would have frozen to death had it not been for a stranger who helped him out. When he asked the stranger how he could repay him, the Good Samaritan simply told him to pass along the favor to someone else.

The San Diego Highwayman has been paying it forward ever since — to the tune of about 5,000 favors. When someone he’s helped asks how to repay him, Mr. Weller simply hands him a card that says: “Assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask for no payment other than for you to pass along the favor by helping someone in distress that you may encounter.”

Now, I’m thinking that if you’re “lucky” enough to be stalled on the freeway shoulder with an overheated radiator, a flat tire, an empty gas tank, or any number of problems, and the San Diego Highwayman pulls up behind your car, it could be a life-changing experience, or rather, a world changing experience. Such blatant and dramatic acts of kindness don’t happen that often, and I think that being the recipient of such an act would be impossible to forget. Having been on the receiving end of Thomas Weller’s generosity and caring would change the way we respond when faced with an opportunity to be of assistance to someone in need. One act of kindness can multiply exponentially if enough of us pay favors forward.

Not too long ago, the Highwayman pulled up behind a couple of cars, one disabled and the other assisting. Pleased that another person was out there willing to help a motorist in a pinch, he asked the do-gooder why he’d stopped to help this stranger. The man replied that a while back, his wife had had a blow-out and had been helped by a man who gave her a card asking for no payment, but rather to return the favor to someone in need.

May we all be on the giving end this holiday season, in some form or another, knowing that our actions could be smoothing the rough edges of life of someone in need. I think that Mr. Weller, sower of seeds of goodwill, would be first to tell you that the pleasure would be nearly all yours.

You’re Not Alone

Friday, September 11th, 2009

It has been a year since I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads getting. Our phone rang early on a Saturday morning when my husband was out of the country and I was home alone. On the other end of the phone was someone I didn’t know telling me that one of our closest friends had been killed the night before in a horrible plane crash.

I have heard that when your system receives a shock, time seems to switch into slow motion. That was true for me. While trying to breathe through my own grief, I had to figure out how to contact my husband and break the news to him. Since we were literally half a world apart, it was impossible to really hold and comfort one another. We each had to deal with the disbelief, the sadness, and the pain alone, as I imagine many people have to do.

Over the past year, I have watched our friend’s widow and daughter deal with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, his birthday, and Father’s Day all without their husband and father. So many times I thought to myself, “How do they get through this pain? How do they get out of bed each morning?” But somehow they did and continue to do so.

Every single one of us will have to deal with death and grieving at some point in our lives. No one is immune - it will touch all of our lives. The holidays are some of the worst days for those who are mourning. Some will have to mourn alone; others will have family members to help ease the pain. Maybe you know someone who needs a little extra attention this holiday season - someone who has recently lost a loved one. Or maybe you, yourself, are grieving the loss of someone you love.

May we all take the time to reach out to those who are hurting and let them know that even though they might feel alone, they really aren’t. While this is a season of joy for most of us, we will experience more of it if we reach out to someone who is hurting, lonely, facing a life-changing illness, or just needs a little extra love. This holiday, I wish peace of mind, love, and comfort to all.

“Searching” for Peace

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Maybe this is common knowledge, but did you know that it’s possible for a website with a “search” feature to keep track of all of the words typed into the “search” box? When you think about it, it’s an amazing tool that can be used to find out just what people are interested in, eager to know about, or are looking to buy.

I tell you this because during the start of the Iraq War, we noticed a huge surge in the number of searches on our website for the word “peace.” The conflict was on all of our minds, no matter where we stood politically. We were worried, scared, and not at all comfortable with the fact that our country was at war. So a lot of us were searching for anything that said “peace” — whether it was the word, itself, the peace symbol, a dove, or anything, really, that communicated hope for a sense of harmony in the world. But now, with the war headlines much smaller, the number of searches for “peace”? Not so many.

I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that the absence of war does not equal peace. And I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that just because we no longer hear daily war casualty numbers doesn’t mean that peace resides in the Middle East. One could say that what has replaced the war headlines — the world economic crisis — is certainly a situation riddled with anguish, fear, and despair — many of the traits of war, itself. So, I’m wondering if, judging from the decrease in the number of “peace” searches on our website, many of us believe that we now have less need to think about and work for peace. I hope not.

Because — and we’ve heard this a million times — peace comes from within. It needs to begin very close to home. It might begin with finding something to be grateful for and for sharing your gratitude with a smile for those you meet. It might begin by picking up an extra bouquet at the farmers’ market for your neighbor who doesn’t get out much. It might begin with taking a deep breath and waiting a moment before you open your mouth to vent to someone. Or maybe by volunteering your time to an effort that makes the earth a gentler place. I guess what I’m saying is that for there to be greater peace in the world, there needs to be greater peace in our own, personal worlds. Internet searches for the word “peace” are fine, but the real search begins within.

The Mug of Peace(available at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com) At first, it was the irrepressibly cheery colors of this hand-painted ceramic mug that caught my eye. What really sold me, though, was the small peace sign embossed into its side. I just love starting my day with this optimistic mug. Whether paired with tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, it’s the perfect gift for all your peace-loving friends. Microwave and dishwasher safe. [Review by Janet Kelly]

Moving Through Grief at Your Own Pace

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Have you ever noticed that when someone is dealing with a bitter, life-changing blow, others want to “hurry” them through the grieving, sadness, and the loss stages and get them right back to “normal” as soon as possible? There is tremendous pressure from family and friends to “get over it,” “move on,” or “find closure.”

People think that by urging a loved one along, moving them toward happy days again, they are actually doing that person a favor. But I don’t think so.

We all need to move through the stages of grief or loss at our own pace, a pace that feels right and works for us. Time and time again, I encounter people who have been rushed through a process that they needed to take their time with, and they still have never really recovered.

This manifests itself in all sorts of ways — turning to food to fill a void left in your heart, “medicating” yourself with alcohol to get through the night, holing up in the house and slowly cutting off contact with others, or simply closing down and not letting anyone get close to you again.

During these scary economic times, people are experiencing losses in ways that they ordinarily might not. Losing a job that you love and have done for years is a very painful kind of loss. Losing most of your retirement savings is also a brutal blow to a family.

This summer, if someone you care about is trying to cope with a loss — be it a job, money, relationship, or a death — try to resist the urge to make them feel better before they are ready. Be there for them; listen to them when they need a sounding board, offer advice only when asked, and let them move through their stages at their own pace. It might be the best support you can offer them in this crazy “get over it” kind of world.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Buy at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com

The Show Must Go On?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

‘Never let ‘em see you sweat!’ was something I heard every day when I was in acting school. This phrase was so embedded in my psyche that when a heavy wooden ladder fell on my foot during a premature blackout on stage last year, I stifled a scream and ‘acted’ as if I wasn’t in the searing pain that made it very difficult to scurry offstage for the next scene change. After all, ‘the show must go on!’

Thinking the pain would go away on its own, I lived with an aching foot for months. Instead of getting better, though, the pain progressed to the point where I began developing a slight limp. After finally seeing an M.D., I learned that I had fractured my foot that night on stage, and because I never had it treated, I now have post-traumatic arthritis that will most likely be with me the rest of my life. Hey, I always thought ‘time heals all wounds.’ No?

I have a friend whose father abandoned her when she was 5. In the 25 years I’ve known her, she’s only mentioned it once, and when she brought it up, she acted as if it was no biggee. Nobody ever sees her sweat, by golly. Yet while her ’show’ goes on, I can’t help but visualize the emotional arthritis and stiffness setting in like protective walls around her heart. While the results of my untreated ‘wound’ can be seen in my walk, hers are seen in troubled relationships and compromised health.

When it comes to wounds both physical and emotional, oh, how we want that quick fix, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that the ’show’ doesn’t go on just because we stifle our screams and act like everything’s okay. Conversely, it seems that if we don’t grieve and don’t seek help when we’re hurting, we end up carrying around an unhealed wound that can be just as crippling as any fracture in our physical body, oftentimes leading to secondary complications down the road.

My hope is that each of us can identify what we’re truly feeling and express it–that we’ll uncover what needs to be uncovered, grieve what needs to be grieved, heal what needs to be healed, and move on to a new day! While we don’t need to let everybody see us ’sweat,’ may we all be blessed with those certain dear souls with whom we can share our pain. Wishing us all a year of deep healing and better times!

Let someone who needs comforting know how much you care with this lovely heart-shaped pillow designed to bring comfort and healing.

When you’re grieving a great loss, it can be such an isolating time. You’re too exhausted to read, you feel as if you’re too much of a killjoy to be around friends, and even the thought of leaving the house drains you. Still, you crave comfort and long to feel that someone knows what you’re going through.

That’s the beauty of giving or receiving one of these Healing Hearts, which are designed to bring emotional comfort and healing. The weight of the heart when placed on the chest is comforting, like the hand of a loved one placed on the heart to soothe or encourage. Made of sumptuously soft fabric with a delicately lavender-scented stuffing, they’re just as soothing to hold as to look at.

Years ago when we carried these, we heard from so many of you. One was the mother of a young man who died of AIDS who told us that her son kept the Heart with him to the end. His mother now has the Heart with her. Women have carried their hearts into surgery; sisters have mailed the heart back and forth across country whenever one needed it the most. I can’t think of a more comforting or tasteful gift to let a loved one know you care. (Semi-sheer crushed polyester with a lustrous sheen.)