Through Kai’s Eyes

cat4My people call me Kai after a place they like in Hawaii. It’s called Kailua Kona. They say they’re going to live there one day. I hope I get to go. (Today I got my own Instagram account at Kai Weil if you want to watch me grow. It’s going to be good.)

I’ve lived with my new people for 8 days now. It’s quite different than my other family. For one thing, they don’t like it when I bite them. The weird thing is my other family loved that. As soon as our teeth started coming in, we celebrated by nipping each other’s ears and legs. It was great fun.  But when I nip at my new family members, they yell “OUCH!” really loud and stop playing with me. It’s confusing, but I think I get it. It’s because they don’t have hair like me except for the stuff that hangs down when they play with me. (They don’t like it when you bite that either. So many rules.)

One thing they have here at my new place that rocks: these little chewy nubbins they call Nylabones. They taste delicious. I can hold them between my paws and gnaw away. It feels so good on my teeth. Sometimes I miss the bone and get the stuff below it which is kind of fun to pull on because it tugs back. Then the people say, “NOT THE CARPET” and I look at them to understand because I want to understand. I want them to like me. I go back to my bone because they seem to like that.

“Goooood boy,” they say. Phew. Yes, bone. No, carpet. Check.

I live inside here. I like it because it’s cool and we have DogTV and toys and people to play with, but I get preoccupied and pee which they don’t like at all.  They yell, “NOT THE CARPET!” They really like the carpet. I hope they like me that much, too.

I’m trying to win them over by doing some things they like. I’m very clever so I’ve figured those out. They do so like it when I go to the place they call my “special spot” and they get REALLY excited when I run there and go on my own. But did I mention it’s really hot out there? Today is 112. (I know that because they keep saying it.) To cool off, I jump in my pool and grab my toy. If I bring it to them, they get really excited. They also really like it when I sit or run towards them with my whole butt wiggling.

Back to the list of “don’ts.”

    • Don’t potty inside
    • Don’t bite the people (as already mentioned, but it’s a biggy)
    • Don’t eat the furniture, or the walls, or the carpet (any of the good stuff, really)
    • Don’t go hide behind things where you can’t be seen (can’t a guy get a little privacy?)
    • Don’t go in the mud
    • Don’t dig big holes in the yard (this one’s a real drag, ’cause I love me some diggin’)
    • Don’t yipe…for any reason really
    • Don’t dig in the fire pit and make all the ash go up in a big cloud of gray until you look prematurely aged (That was crazy! I couldn’t see anything!)

This is just a starter list. More comes up and I’m trying to learn it all. But it’s tough to remember. I’m doing it, though, because I get perks like these.

  • A family who loves me
  • I get to meet new friends like these pretty ladies
  • I get to swim in my pool, which I adore
  • I get to go “training” and learn sit, stand, stack, leave it (not my fave), here and then they say, “Goooood boy.” (After I get to play with my cousins and bite which I do so enjoy.)
  • Best of all, I get to make my family so happy and bring them joy.remi



Mom says I’m going to be a “therapy” dog. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I think it’s going to be fun. Mom says it’s perfect because my name means “restoration” and “recovery” in Hawaiian. It also means ocean and she says we get to go see that at a place called Dog Beach in Santa Cruz. She says I’m gonna love it there.

I can’t wait for all our adventures. I’m going to be the bestest boy. I’m so happy I’m home.








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Ashland Secrets You’ll Love!

There are things you can control in life, and things you can’t. Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery

(inspired by Professor Clark Smith who wrote on the board: Winemaking (like life) is the art of the intelligent compromise.

Today is mDSCN5248y husband and my 18th wedding anniversary, 21 dating anniversary and 32 friendship anniversary. What can I say? We like to celebrate.

So we headed North to Oregon, pioneer style, to discover unexplored territory. Although I’ve been visiting Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) since my teens, we found so many new gems. I can hardly wait to share them with you.

First, we stayed at Lithia Springs Resort. This place is nothing short of magical. It’s a collection of 11 different types of cottages with periwinkle blue walls and yellow doors (perfect for two Bruins!) The cottages have a soaking tub fed by the healing Lithia Springs water, along with a shower to wash off the minerals spa-style. The beds in this place are heavenly–white fluffy pillows as far as the eye can see. You could probably just spend your time going between the soaking tub and bed and be completely transformed into pure bliss. (Well, I could anyway.)

Around these cottages, acres of lush gardens with sitty places abound. Each mini-garden is accented with a water feature of some kind. At the koi pond, you can sit and watch koi of unusual size. Do you see how big those suckers are?DSCN5249

There are benches, loungers, chairs — whatever matches your style. The birch trees even seem to wave at you in the wind. (We waved back, but then we’re freaks that way.) Roses, delphinium, grape vines, and flora throughout the walk ways and cottages are listed in the tea room, along with a list of critters that live there, too.

That’s right. There’s a tea room.  DSCN5256

At 3:00, tea, lemonade, scones, lemon curd, raspberry jam and cookies — all homemade–are put out for guests to enjoy. The space is so relaxing and is right next to the Waterstone Spa so you can catch that spa smell. You can also get hot or cold mineral water out of the tap here. (Not the stinky mineral water you taste in Ashland at those fountains in case you’re wondering.) The lemon curd is divine, but it’s sort of like picking a favorite child at the tea. You just can’t do it.

Then there’s the breakfast! Inclusive in the already low price, is this delicious, extensive breakfast with Chef Cheryl’s own homemade scone recipe. She’s been at this for 16 years and has mad skills in the kitchen. There were eggs, homemade granola and scones, blintzes, yogurt, sausage, bacon, coffee, juices, fruit and about a gazillion other things. On one wall of the dining room is Gabriel Lipper’s first large mural he painted and it really sets a mood. The woman on the left was his then girlfriend, now wife, and the woman on the right her best friend. They bought these vintage clothes and posed for this mural. The owner was so happy with his work, he promoted Lipper and eventually Lipper went on to DSCN5236paint many naked ladies and westerns, including some work for Garth Brooks. How do I know all this? Cheryl (scone etc. maker extraordinaire) saw me taking a photo and gave me the whole back story. Breakfast and history lessons here at Lithia. (We Googled Gabriel and tried to find his studio, but I think we ended up at his house. We didn’t go in because we thought that may be a little weird with the whole naked lady thing.) Instead, we headed to check out the up and rising Southern Oregon wine scene we’d heard so much about. They now boast over 50 in the five appellations at the bottom of Oregon.

We visited four wineries. I would recommend all of them because they were all so unique in place and wine. We love finding wineries that don’t sell wine outside their winery. You can’t find them at BevMo. That way, it feels like a treasure hunt when you find that special  wine or a place.

The first place with that special find was Caprice Vineyards in Central Point just outside of Jacksonville. The first thing I noticed driving in were the fruit trees and a lone catalpa which happens to be one of my favorite trees. Immediately you get a different vibe than the typical winery drive up a dirt road. There’s a quaint, Italian feeling porch with tables perfect for enjoying a glass of wine (I’d go for the ’09 Cab) or one of their delicious cheese trays. But what you should really do, after tasting the wines in their tasting room/gift shop, is get your favorite glass of red or white and head on out to the alpacas. The boys are slightly more friendly than the girls, but both groups (strategically separated) LOVE grape vines. Conveniently, the day we went, the vines were being trimmed and we were able to bring offerings.


Aren’t they the cutest? They were sheared the weekend before which explains the look. (Jeanne uses the ultra soft hair for alpaca classes and has her students turn it into hats, scarves and other things you can find in the gift shop.) The Caprice owners actually started their alpaca farm in Riverside, California after watching an ad on television. An interesting detail about these darling creatures is that they are shy and considered prey. This llama is put out as a bodyguard to take care of them. This winery is a good option for children as not all in Southern Oregon allow them.


The next winery we hit up has a whole different vibe. Owner/winemaker Eric Weisinger heads up this long time father/son venture. Eric’s Dad, John, Presbyterian minister emeritus, launched the winery in the 1970s with the digging of what remains one of the largest underground cellars in the area. One of the earliest wineries as evidenced by their very thick Gewurtztraminer vines, Weisinger has taken on different influences over the years. One of the very interesting influences is Eric’s international flavor. He’s spent much time in Europe and actually worked at a winery in New Zealand. Eric explained aspects of the wine business to us we’d never heard in our 20 years of tasting such as the economics behind custom crush. So interesting to us, but here are two things you need to know.

The view here is fantastic and the wine is awesome (especially the first Bordeaux blend in Southern Oregon known as Petit Pompadour at 64% Merlot and 36% Cab Sauvignon. The 2011 is delicious–bought some!) But what I’m equally excited about is the upcoming 2014 Cab Franc and 2014 Pinot that’s on barrel. DSCN5223Eric was kind enough to let us taste from the barrels and wow–outstanding. If it was in bottles (patience because it’ll be a few years) we’d have brought home multiples in a heartbeat! We will for sure be making a trip back when they are released.

The next day we hit two wineries, EdenVale and Dana Campbell. EdenVale is located in Medford, about 20 miles north of Ashland. When we arrived, we saw this stately historic house which we wandered into because we couldn’t find the bathrooms or anybody in the tasting room. You must go here just to see DSCN5252this place. Old photos on the wall reminiscent of plantation homes and vineyards/orchards as far as the eye can see. When we started our tastings, the standout we brought home was the 2010 Rogue River Rose. However, here’s a funny secret about these guys that wine club members absolutely love. We talked to two from San Mateo who verified. They have wine in airtight bags that last up to 45 days. The winemaker responded to club members’ requests. It cuts expense and waste–no more having to drink a bottle in 3 days. Their Sangria, prepared nicely by event manager Aaron Nino with ice and fruit, was delicious.

On the other side of town is Dana Campbell, the closest winery to Ashland. It sits up on a hill overlooking rolling hills and the quaint town of Ashland. Floor to ceiling windows in the converted 5 bedroom house make a breathtaking tasting room and patio. On the patio is a large fire pit with ample seating for those fall sunsets over the vineyard. Pat Flannery was kind to meet us on a closed day and show us around the wines and the place. We loved (as do the locals) the Sauvignon Blanc. Pat has a Hawaiian-esque way of talking story and we enjoyed hearing stories of how the tasting room came to be. The day before we arrived several acres of new grapes had been added to the already lushly covered hills so new wines on the horizon there. They grow the grapes, and take them off site, happy to not have the expense and work to keep up with on-site equipment.  (Pat, after all, is “retired.”) This one is not for kids, by the way. Rattlesnakes live out in the vineyards.

But what about food?

Okay, can I just say GO TO THE LOFT right near OSF.

First, get this:



It’s the butter lettuce salad.

Then, get the Dungeness Crab Macaroni Casserole. If you are with someone, you can totally share it. It’s rich and I could only eat about a third, but it’s not to be missed. It’s the crab macaroni and cheese treasure hunt. Large pieces of succulent fresh crab hidden beneath a mac & cheese blanket.DSCN5255 In addition to the unforgettable food at The Loft (sit on the balcony under the liquid amber for a quaint, romantic spot) was the service. Ashley Chamberlain was perhaps one of the best servers I’ve had for quite some time. In a funny twist of fate, we discovered she went to the same high school in Palos Verdes California that my oldest son attended. (Yah, we were totally in the flow during our stay there.)

After The Loft, the perfect place to go is
the Shakespeare Festival and see “Anthony & Cleopatra.” For one, it’s in the Elizabethan so you’re out under the stars in this very sacred space rich with Oregonian history. Two, it’s Shakespeare, and you just have to hear people talk like that sometimes. And three, this production is outstanding. All three hours of it wrapped to a standing ovation. If you can still get tickets (and I don’t know if you can), this is one to catch. We also heard great things about “Guys and Dolls” and I’ve never seen a bad play in the New Theater. If you go here and like these plays, join the OSF. You get first pick tickets, discounts, and free tickets during special promotions, not to mention bathroom perks in the Member’s Only lounge. Plus, it’s an awesome cause to support.

So what are you waiting for? High-tail it to Ashland already! I know we’ll be back. Maybe in the winter for another kind of magic.DSCN5229

Lithia Springs Resort – 2165 West Jackson Road, Ashland, OR  (800) 482-7128

Caprice Vineyards – 970 Old Stage Road, Central Point, OR 97502 (541) 499-0449  Owners: James & Jeanne Davidian

Weisinger Family Winery – 3150 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland, OR (541) 488-5989 www.  (awesome new website!) (541) 488-5989 GM/Winemaker: Eric Weisinger

EdenVale Winery, Eden Valley Orchards 2310 Voorhies Road, Medford, OR (541) 512-2955 x2 – They’re big on events and Aaron Nino is the event manager.

Dana Campbell Vineyards, 1320 N Mountain Avenue, Ashland, OR (541) 482-3798, Owners: Patrick Dana Flannery and Rear Admiral Paula Campbell Brown

The Loft, 18 Calle Guanajuato Way, Ashland, OR (541) 482-1116

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, (800) 219-8161

Jubilee Trolley, Katherine Hooker, Owner – (541) 253-1080 – If you want to hit the Rogue River Appellation, this is the way to go. At $40 per person per day, Katherine and her husband (who built the trolley) will take you to five wineries!DSCN5209



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The Flow

One of the first thing kids want to know when they find out I write books for children and teens is where I get my ideas. If it’s a particular story I have not been assigned, and I don’t have structural restrictions that way, I find the stories the same way I try to live my life. I use my intuition. I like to call it The Flow.

When I tell a story, I want to tell a story that is authentic on a deeper plane. I want to tell a story that comes to me and through me, not one which I force into a container mandated by market trends. I smile when multiple people say, “You wrote that for me, didn’t you?” because I feel then I have tapped into the collective consciousness. I have told the story that needed to be told in that moment.

But what does that look like? It’s not something that can be done with an analytical mind. For me, it’s about staying in The Flow. We are all programmed to do this, but often we keep ourselves too busy, riddled by our monkey minds.  Luckily, there’s a secret tool. A key part of getting there–and staying there– is something I do every day before I write: meditation.

In my pre-writing meditation, the focus is on allowing. After a period of just being and following the breath, I invite the story that wants to be told to come forward.  I ask that the timing of that story be made clear to me from the ultimate Storywriter. I open up and allow, setting my look-at my-fancy-metaphor ego in the closet–and wait. It is not about drawing attention to myself with my literary bling, but rather about opening up as a conduit for a bigger story that wants to be told.

What happens next is I can barely keep up. The words waterfall off my hand and onto the page just as they are at this very moment. (I first wrote this entry longhand in my journal. The words flowed so fast my hand fell asleep and I kept having to shake it.)  If I’m not standing in The Flow — indeed living and breathing there — the words disappear like a dream upon awakening.

But by staying in The Flow, we remember what we need to remember. We make space for the moment, in both writing and life. In fact, often by the end of a blog entry, or a novel, I am surprised to find where it leads and opens up. It’s almost always better than my logical mind could have devised. Take this entry for example. I thought I was going to write about anxiety because I had this really fascinating input from the world around me this week on that subject. However, this story flowed very different than that. That means the thoughts on anxiety want to come at a different time and I’m totally good with that.

In life, I start each day with an outline on a yellow sticky sheet. It’s prioritized the night before, a habit I developed after attending a business management conference while working at law firms and juggling marketing activities for hundreds of lawyers. It helps me get stuff done and not procrastinate. However, what I’ve learned to do now is allow for The Flow each morning and recognize that may modify my note because there might be something that trumps it all. I will know when I listen. If I don’t check in, the day is never as much fun.

I feel grateful and joyous when I’m living in The Flow. Synchronicities abound and such fun stuff happens. The Flow is always there when I sit quietly and go to it, letting my thoughts pass…saying hello but not clinging to them and allowing what is to be. Answers become clear. Inspirations abound. I connect with the collective.

That’s my happy place. The best part is it reaches beyond me to you and shows how we are all connected to each other.

I do so love being connected with you.

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Yoga as a Pathway to Recovery

quotesRecovery wears many robes. It can be recovery from addictions. The twelve-step programs have really coined the term in that way. It can be recovery from mental illness. The mental health movement uses it in this way. Or it can mean simply getting back what once was yours.  Here’s the actual definition:

  • a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.
  • the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.

Several weeks ago, a writer and editor approached me with this post on the role yoga can take in recovery. That person requested I share it with you. As a dedicated yogi in philosophy and practice, I was eager to share. I hope you will like it as much as I do.

yoga-recovery-addiction-benefits-680x415For individuals in recovery, the path to a healthier life requires a multifaceted approach. Physical, emotional and spiritual growth are all vital parts of the success equation. One practice that embodies all of these elements is yoga, and its use in recovery is a natural fit.

The word yoga literally means “to yoke,” a uniting of spiritual, mental and physical practice. Yoga is not about achieving the incredible feats of flexibility that grace the covers of magazines in the checkout line of Whole Foods; in fact the physical postures are just one of eight “limbs” of yoga, including ethical standards, self discipline, postures, breath, sensory transcendence, concentration, meditation and ecstasy. The physical practice of moving through various poses—or asana—is meant to be a moving meditation. It is as much about connecting breath to movement as it is about achieving any sort of physical milestones.

Pranayama—the limb that focuses on the breath—is a particularly poignant practice for those in recovery. By harnessing the depth and rhythm of our breath, we are able to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system and help its regulation. This helps us bring our heart rate and stress hormones back to a normal level after our “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system response has been activated. For many people in recovery, the sympathetic nervous system is out of balance. Either they are actively seeking to tap into it by using stimulants, or working to quiet an overactive system by using sedatives.

Inversions—or going upside down—help people see the world in a different way, which is exactly what they’re trying to do if they’re in recovery.-MARCUS BERARDINO

Addiction functions on many levels, but a common feature is a sense of detachment from the body. Yoga poses work by cultivating focus and attention on the body to help counteract this. Certain types poses are specifically indicated for people in recovery. “Child’s pose, squatting, standing pose and other grounding poses help establish a sense of feeling safe, feeling at home,” said Marcus Berardino, a Brooklyn-based yoga instructor and massage therapist who offers “yoga prescriptions” to his clients. “Inversions—or going upside down—help people see the world in a different way, which is exactly what they’re trying to do if they’re in recovery,” he said.

The body of someone in recovery is a holding place for pain, and physical reminders of an addiction often linger long after sobriety has been established. Yoga therapist Weena Pauly, who teaches a method called Rising Phoenix Yoga Therapy, explains that the body gives us clues about our emotional state that we may not be consciously aware of. “In yoga therapy we might look at someone’s posture and see why its there, versus in a yoga class where we might look to correct the posture,” she said. Pauly feels that while 12-step programs are often highly effective, they do not include a focus on the body.

Another common feature among individuals in recovery is a history of trauma. Both Berardino and Pauly cautioned against moving too quickly into poses that might be intense or evoke strong feelings of vulnerability too quickly, such as major backbends, or heart openers. “The person in yoga therapy needs support outside of the session when they’re headed into messier waters,” said Pauly.

Yoga’s rise to popularity in the U.S. began in the 1950’s but was more widely popularized starting in the 1960’s, mainly as a result of more relaxed immigration laws that allowed for yoga gurus from India to remain in the U.S. for longer periods of time and disseminate their teachings. Yoga has been in practice in India for 5,000 years, but today’s yoga bears little resemblance to the ancient practice. In many classes, the spiritual teachings are rarely if ever mentioned and instead, an emphasis on the physical benefits—a longer, leaner, more toned physique—is the sole focus. While physical activity of any sort can still benefit individuals in recovery by providing them with a way to care for their bodies rather than do harm, this type of practice does not address issues of emotional regulation that can lead one to use substances in the first place. There is also a missed opportunity to work through step 11 of the 12 steps, which focuses on meditation.

In yoga therapy we might look at someone’s posture and see why its there, versus in a yoga class where we might look to correct the posture.-WEENA PAULY

Fortunately, for those who are interested in pursuing yoga as a means to aid their recovery, resources are plentiful. Classes are becoming more prevalent at inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities. Yoga teacher Tommy Rosen, who is himself in recovery, hosts a free online conference featuring experts in the field of holistic recovery. There are yoga programs specifically geared towards those in 12-step programs such as Yoga of Recovery, which offers retreats in the Bahamas and other tropical settings. And with hundreds of free resources readily available on the Internet, yoga is an accessible and egalitarian form of recovery support.

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Lessons from the Pack

We are getting a new puppy mid-June named Kai. He is a yellow labrador retriever.kai8 His momma, Reece, was friends with our beautiful Ms. Bay who passed last January. When we found out Reece was going to have puppies, we got on friend Julie’s list. (This may be Kai or his sibling. We’re not sure yet.)

Several weeks ago, while I was away in the Bay Area celebrating my oldest son’s passing of orals on his PhD and launch into dissertation mode, Julie texted and asked if we could take the pack for four days over Memorial Day weekend. Her husband’s dad had died and they were going up to Oregon to be with family. I would get home, have a day to regroup, then all seven four and a half week pups would come over with Reece who was still nursing, though the pups started solids as well. This was quite a favor and we had never had puppies (as in EVER) in mass.

Well, of course we will do it! was the obvious response.


We printed up documents of feeding instructions and emergency numbers and pasted them on the fridge. The dad showed up with a whole pickup bed worth of equipment which we set up. One by one, momma and puppies piled out of the backseat crate and into our hearts.

Frankly, I think this should be mandatory for every pet owner. Make it a bill. Maybe a petition. Every puppy owner first needs to tend to the entire pack for a minimum of four days before bringing one home to stay. Because during these four days, you really  begin to understand so many aspects of the transition from dog pack to people pack. You understand how hard it must be for the pups to leave their family and move to a human family with new rules and new ways that were different from their primary family.

It reminded me of this exercise I did at this recent youth mental health conference I went to at Asilomar after watching a film called “Removed” about a young child dropped into the foster system. Child services took her from a domestic violence situation. Here was the exercise.

Pretend you are a tourist in Russia and war breaks out. You have $10 and don’t speak language. You have only one more night in your hotel. You can’t leave the country and the embassy is under attack. All foreigners will be removed and imprisoned if found. You are stuck there for at least a year. What do you do?sib3

This, I thought, must be similar to how the pups feel when they are taken from their pack and brought into homes with a new language, culture and customs. They are eager to please, but don’t know the language, the rules, the routines. They need time, and focus, and consistent practice to know they are doing all the right things.

Potential puppy owners really need to read Ian Dunbar, the Monks of New Skete, and anything they can get their hands on from top trainers in this field. Then, unless they are professional breeders or trainers, they need to hire a trainer BEFORE THE PUP comes home, to train them. It is not fair to the pup, who’s stuck in Russia, not to invest this way. This training should continue after the pup comes home and as the pup grows. Then maybe we won’t have such a high rate of pet dissatisfaction and abandoned animals.

Watching the pups also taught me about personality. We saw how certain pups would pair off. We spotted the instigator who would bite everyone’s ears and had insomnia. We saw the boy who always reached his arm out to draw around his sibling. He did this many different times. We saw the pup who preferred to be behind the doghouse in a smaller, tighter space (sensory integration issues?) I could see the labeling process happening before our very eyes.


We witnessed competition and collaboration. As the pups interacted we saw how biting could be both for play and domination, and that if one got too aggressive, a third pup would often come over and intervene. We saw them wrestling for pack position, and we noticed those who wanted no part of that competition. By the second night, we saw how all pups piled on top of that blue cot thing, cuddled up, and slept all night snuggled together.

I noted how forgiving they are. No grudges, no anger, no remembrance of biting and wrestling, or who did what to whom. Just one big happy family, growing together, and so happy when the whole thing begins all over the next day. Pure love.5weeks2days2

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Children and Mental Health: They Need Us

cheerLast week, I attended a conference called CHMACY at the Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove, California. A group known as United Advocates for Children and Youth gave me a scholarship so I went to learn more about who they are and what they do.

United Advocates for Children and Families (UACF) is a non profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of life for all children and youth with mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges and to eliminate institutional discrimination and social stigma. They empower parents, caregivers, children, and youth through education, training, and technical assistance programs and services to ensure families are present at every level of decision making. They keep families informed on important news and events by providing monthly opportunities for networking and collaboration and extensive communications and outreach efforts . UACF also operates a direct services program for and by families in various counties of the state. It is free to belong.

There were many interesting moving parts to this CHMACY conference. As a mental health advocate and teacher in this area for many years now, I couldn’t figure out why I’d never heard of them. Their goal is to collect information from the various counties throughout California and be a voice for children and families in Sacramento. They track closely what’s happening with legislation, if current legislators are friends and allies (or not), and lobby for mental health needs on behalf of the marginalized voices of the youngest Californians.

I met some amazing people. They were county employees, parent advocates, social workers, and so forth. They worked in schools and in agencies and for the government. My favorites, though, were youth advocates. I met and spoke with young heroes in a group called Youth in Mind who were activists, consultants, and advocates. Many were 20 somethings (barely) who had “lived experiences.” That means quite likely they had run away from abusive home scenarios (foster or otherwise) or had been kicked out of their homes for various reasons. Many had lived homeless for different periods of time. They had figured out a way to take their experiences and help others, and they had amazing stories and hutzpa.

After a day or so of listening to stories, I realized I was not familiar with these groups or with this conference because unless a person is in the foster system or goes to prison, they do not have access to many of these services. Sometimes, even then it’s hard to figure out how to access them.  That didn’t make much sense to me. Shouldn’t there be a group out there trying to intervene two steps BEFORE prison and foster care and make the services easy to navigate?

No question that ALL families with children experiencing mental health issues could use a helping hand. Many times, they don’t speak up for fear of being stigmatized. They may not have the resources where they live or even if they do have resources, they might not be able to pay for them. They may not know where to start. Schools often dodge the issue for fear they may have to pay for them. Churches say to pray harder and are often not equipped with the right tools for desperate families. I’ve heard many people tell me churches kicked them out and they were devastated. When they need spiritual strength most, they are abandoned. (Bad churches. Shame on you.) Meanwhile, the kids don’t miraculously get better because the adults can’t figure out a plan. They get worse.

So here’s what I’m going to do. There is this model called Parent Cafes (evidence-based and successful!) where parents of children experiencing mental health challenges can come and discuss what they need. I’m going to start one in Shasta County. Parents brainstorm and network and chat. Discuss what’s working and not working in their counties. (By the way, Shasta/Tehama/and all surrounding counties have NO REPRESENTATION and I believe the worse drug issues in the country last time I looked. Obviously, that correlates to more prevalent mental health problems.) After the cafes, notes are sent to Sacramento for a voice so they can at least not claim ignorance as to what’s happening in the north part of the state with the kiddos and their families. And parents feel supported in their darkest days.

Parents and families are the crux of our societies. It is vital we take care of our children and their needs. It won’t be long before they’re running the show. When I look at the inspiring stories of the young adults I met at this conference, I have so much hope. Thanks, UACF, for giving me this vision into what’s happening in California. I know, without question, we can make a difference.

Posted in healthy living, mental health, mental health and children | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Law of Reciprocity

reciprocal2I’m studying Thomas Troward’s Edinburgh and Dore Lectures right now. He’s one wordy dude from beyond the pond in the 1870ish time period. I’ve had a bit of resistance to him because (1) he was an English judge and has that annoying superiority thing going on a bit, and (2) he writes sentences that go on for miles with words that require three cross-references. It’s tiring. However, he does make some great points, and his Law of Reciprocity is one of those I’ve been pondering on all week.

I looked up synonyms for reciprocal, and none of them quite cut it. The way I think about the Law of Reciprocity is much in the same way I think of the Law of Cause and Effect. When you make a particular choice (cause), different results will happen (effect). The distinction with reciprocity, though, is that the effect will match the cause, and in this way each of us is completely effecting our own reality.

There is no better place to see this then at the grocery store check out stand. This is true at any time, but right this moment, I’m thinking of an incident that happened to my oldest son last week at his neighborhood Tucson Safeway (ironic when you break down the name because it certainly didn’t feel safe.)

Here’s the story. My oldest son, Abe, is half black and half white and often experiences the world differently than I do as a white person. His partner, Kelly, is a white girl from the Midwest. They shop in this store 3-5 times per week, dropping a good deal of their very limited dollars as both are PhD students on a tight budget. When Abe is with Kelly, none of the undercover shop watchers follow them around. When Abe is alone, it happens almost every time.

Last week, it was more overt than  usual. A tall guy followed Abe around the store in a very obvious undercover watch. I’m guessing Abe carried his cloth bag (because he’s environmentally conscious that way) and was putting items in it like they always do. After searching the store, he couldn’t find miso paste, so headed up front to customer service to ask. The undercover man practically lunged right into him. Abe turned to look at the man and stared him down, now angry because he’s being racially profiled. The man turned and went to the back of the store and through the door.

I’d like to think we have evolved somewhat as a collective when it comes to racial profiling, Abe’s reality in the Safeway (and at the airport, or pretty much anywhere he goes) proves otherwise. Here he is, just having passed his PhD orals that day, feeling proud and preparing to make a celebratory dinner. In this moment of joy, this man is stalking him because of the color of his skin. As he checked out of the store, the man came back out from where he had disappeared earlier and stood by the front door. “Nice shopping with you today,” Abe directed at the man, I’m guessing sarcastically.

The man followed him out into the parking lot and said, “Do you know you can be arrested for outing an undercover officer in the store?”

Abe said, “Do you know that this now constitutes harassment and that I am going to call the real police if you don’t leave me alone?”

This whole incident was upsetting for everyone involved. The attitudes and prejudices of the security guard brought out the fight side of Abe (who is normally very friendly, fun and lighthearted in such settings as he loves to cook and collect ingredients). Both people left feeling very bad about humanity. I can’t help but think that whole thing could have been avoided if the man did not make it so obvious he was undercover, or minimally, backed off once he realized he was offensive. Bigger than that, I dream of a world where we don’t assume somebody is going to steal miso paste because he happens to have a certain color skin.

Now let’s take another incident at the checkout stand. The clerk says, “How are you doing today?” and you say, “I’m great, Pam (or whatever the name says). How are you?” The fact you paid just that little extra attention to notice their name and use it can change someone’s whole day. Then, the next person that approaches will get the reciprocal effect of your good will. Just one person connecting with another and passing it on.
To me, this seems like such a good use of time and energy. This is especially well spent at times when people annoy us. For example, what would have happened if Abe said to the guy in a very friendly way, “Do you happen to know where the miso paste is?” or otherwise engaged him in conversation. Would he have been as aggressively obnoxious? Not according to the Law of Reciprocity.

These times are the best opportunities to practice this law. Try it just for fun. When someone is nasty, shift the energy, and see what comes back at you. Hey, maybe I’ll practice on Troward…

Changing the world, one interaction at a time.

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, healthy living, metaphysical, positive attitude | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

List-zen, says the Universe

frogWhen is the last time you really felt heard on a physical, emotional and spiritual level? When is the last time you’ve listened that way?

In order to listen that way, you can’t be doing two things at once. You can’t ask someone a question, then pop up mid-answer to go do something you forgot to do while they attempt to answer. You can’t drive in a car, or do the dishes, or be planning the next thing you’re going to say. That’s not really listening or even hearing, for that matter.

This is such a challenge for me, especially the car thing.  I love talking on the phone in the car. But I’m aware of the difference of the calls I make from home when I’m sitting in my chair just listening. I’m so much more present to hear the person on all planes when I’m not dividing my attention. And I want to be that person that really hears, that listens to the words, the heart, the subtext of what the person is saying. I just tell myself this myth which says I must multitask to get the list done.

My favorite time on earth is to sit with a very good listener who doesn’t interrupt, but who really tunes into the same frequency. That’s where communication happens. And I think about what kind of world this could be if more people communicated this way. What kind of discoveries we would make.

But the more stimulation that comes from the constant barrage of technology and access to things, the less that seems likely without conscious movement in that direction. We wear our busyness like first place prize ribbons and pretend we don’t actually create it all ourselves. We see ourselves as so indispensable. It all depends on us.

The busyness has a clear secondary gain. We don’t have to get quiet and really ask ourselves what the hell we are doing here on this earth and why. We can’t. We’re too busy. We’ll stick that on tomorrow’s list when we retire.

Through my many years of practicing Martial Arts, yoga, meditation and writing, I have come to see that quiet time as my life line to listening, both to the Universe at large and to each other. On the Universe side for example, I have been seeing the numbers 11:11 for the past four months. I told my husband, “Why everytime I look at the clock does it say 11:11? What’s it mean?”

Then, last week I was waiting at the dentist for my hygenist to be ready and decided to stack up some podcasts in my Podcast box. I went to a new category: religion and spirituality. There it was: 11:11 Talk Radio. Not even kidding. Turns out people all over the world are seeing these numbers. According to this site, it signifies opening consciousness. There’s even 11:11 jewelry! I followed the trail and loved where it took me.

On an individual side, I can pick up much more information about what’s really going on in somebody’s soul when I’m sitting one-on-one and focusing only on them. I’m making a very conscious effort to make the time to do this more and more, starting with settling my own mind down, which always thinks it needs the floor.

One step I took to work on this settling thing was to do a “Spring Cleaning” meditation retreat last week with a guide from Mt. Shasta. For five hours, we sat in silence and meditated in a group of 10. We did a combination of sitting and walking meditations in nature, including in a labyrinthe. The most interesting thing happened. In my second walking meditation, I walked through a forest down to a creek. The tall green grasses of spring were speckled with blue dickies and yellow wild flowers. I had taken this same trail on the first walking meditation, but this time I went intentionally very slow (painfully slow), very consciously moving breath in and out.

The result was fascinating. I saw more. The colors were brighter. My heart filled with joy and peace as I smiled at the simplicity of it all, and the mind-boggling majesty of the whole scene. The whole Universe was singing to me and and I was list-zenning. My rewards were far greater than any I ever get on social media.

On a podcast I listened to yesterday, a woman–who was touting the importance of really listening to each other–said that in her work with serial killers, many of whom were sociopaths, she asked them what they got out of killing 10, 30, 50 people. She said across the board they said that the only time in their entire lives they ever felt heard was right before they killed somebody.

That made me sad. If somebody listened, maybe their paths could have taken a different turn. Everybody deserves to be heard regularly. Everybody deserves to know how to listen well. My dream for humanity is that when asked the questions when have you really listened and when have you really listened to someone else the answer will be just now.

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, healthy living, Inspiration, meditation, spiritual, Synchronicity, yoga | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Vagina Dialogues: Testing the Waters and Beyond

brande1I’ve been putting this off for several reasons. Let’s face it. The vagina is something we whisper about with friends we know well, right? But as this blog spot does have a health bend, it would be unfair to keep this from you. After all, it could make a huge difference in your life (or in the life of a vagina you love) and in that way I find the following intel applies across gender. Even if you don’t have a vagina, you probably know one. (This is kind of feeling like a drinking game where you have to drink every time I say vagina. Are you getting that?)

It all started when my mom and my mother-in-law started having prolapsed bladder issues in their 70s/80s. Now that seems very far off, but then 51 seemed very far off 10 years ago, and, well–here we are. As my mom likes to say, “Be here before we know it.” Their subsequent surgeries, and especially my mom’s who I was there for, got me thinking about this process. As I would talk to young people that worked in the offices, they’d all had “procedures” done. The hospital staff had seen tons of these surgeries in women. Was this just something you had to do as you aged? That seemed off.

When I started thinking about it, I realized that I had become a little more drippy in the past five years. (Sorry. Gross. I know.) But it wasn’t enough to really catch my attention as the shift was gradual. At least, until I started talking to people.

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. That happens. You probably need medication or a procedure,” was the tribal cry.

I’m all about proactive health so I decided to make an appointment with my mom’s doctor. Part of the reason for that was I wanted to get an explanation about something that I felt was off post surgery with her, and partly to test the waters of any steps I should be taking so that come 70, I didn’t need to have bladder surgery. (Note to self: figure out how to keep bladder from falling out.)

I showed up at the appointment eager to get a plan in place. I was given a bunch of homework, including measuring what went in and out for 72 hours. (That was a pain!) But I tried to be diligent and accurate and took my papers back to my next appointment. When I arrived, I was taken to a back room. That’s where I got my own little 50 shades experience.

The room looked like a torture chamber. There was a chair covered in pads and all sorts of machinery going every which way. The nice lady tells me to undress from the waist down and we’re going to run a battery of tests which involves catheters going in various places (simultaneously? I can’t remember–I’ve blacked it out) and that this was a necessary step to determine what we needed to do about my “condition.”

Always the dutiful patient, I did as I was told. She came in and we started a series of very uncomfortable tests. About 10 minutes in I think I had what must have been an anxiety attack. (I’ve only once experienced anything like it and that was back in my early 20s when I was working for a bunch of high-maintenance lawyers who gave many people anxiety attacks.) The room started to spin. I couldn’t feel my legs. Part of me was like, “Oh–this is what it feels like when I create characters who have anxiety attacks in my novels.” The other part was saying, “If you don’t stop this right now, you’re (a) going to vomit and (b)  pass out in said vomit with wires coming out every which way.

I told the lady I had to stop. She told me we had much more to do. I told her too bad.

I got dressed and walked out into the hall trying to process all that just went down. After about 5 minutes, I was perfectly fine. I said, “You know. I think I can probably finish.” Face the fear.

She hesitated. “Well, we don’t have much time until the next appointment, but probably I can finish.”

We try it again. At one point she says, “I’m going to need you to pee on my hand.”

What?! That’s not my thing!

The anxiety attack came back full throttle. Again I had to stop. I decided as I was getting dressed my body was clearly trying to tell me there was a better solution.

I headed home and called my family doctor. I needed to find another option, a challenging task in a small town. He referred me to a new doc that assured me they didn’t require hand-peeing and would only need a brief exam.  We did that and it was simple and fast. No anxiety involved.

“You know what I think would really help?” he offered. “Vaginal therapy.”

“They have that?” I asked. “Sounds weird.”

“We have the best person in town for 500 miles. She takes something weird and makes it not weird.”

Enter Brande Moffatt. That’s her up there in the photo. We started sessions and he was totally right. I learned so much. That’s why I feel the need to share this personal insight with you.

Here are a few ahas from VT sessions:

1. Kegels are not good for everybody – as we are all unique, so are our pelvic floors. If your muscles are tight, Kegels can cause problems like incontinence and all sorts of things we don’t want.

2. If you clench or grind your teeth, you most likely have a tight pelvic floor. Everything’s connected. Super important to learn to relax those muscles. Otherwise, it can cause incontinence and other problems down the road even though that’s counterintuitive.

3. We don’t learn the parts as well as we should as we grow up. There’s really a lot to know.

4. Fun fact: Women on the east coast and women on the west coast have different hairstyles or lack thereof. (This came up as side talk after Brande had attended a conference where both were present. The instructor snickered and told her that.)

5. Vaginal Therapy (just like physical therapy for any other body part) is covered by insurance in urban areas. In my case, only via the appeal process and with the right argument because nobody for 500 miles does what she does. Explaining what it is to the male customer service guys is really fun.

6. There are many layers involved in this work: physical, emotional, mindful.

7. Breathing IS HUGELY correlated to correct pelvic floor operation. Brande really has to teach people that first thing and it’s somewhat counterintuitive. Once you get it, though, you’re like, “Ohhhhhhh.”

8. There are special things you should do when you are doing Zumba. You know those hip wiggles you do? You should be holding your pelvic brace  in such a way (like a girdle) that things are staying in place and continue to breathe simultaneously. You thought Zumba required concentration before!

9. Anybody who is considering surgery should try VT first. Best case, you may not need surgery like me. Worse case, you will most likely recover more easily and with less problems when you learn what kind of pelvic floor you have and what you need to make it work its best.

10. The most important take away from VT is knowing how to live life. What do you when you go to Costco? Twist and lift a baby? Sneeze? All those things we do each put pressure on the bladder and while you might not care when you’re 20, you probably will in your late 40s or after you’ve carried a few kids.

BONUS 11: VT addresses a  number of issues. The list is pretty lengthy. See Brande’s website below if you want to see it.

What people like Brande can do is teach women a skill they have probably never been taught. We are taught to bend our knees when we pick something up, but we are not told to “pick up the marble, brace the pelvic floor and breathe simultaneously so you don’t squeeze things out “like a tube of toothpaste.” (She says that a lot.) Knowing this can prevent costly (and unnecessary) surgeries and subsequent issues. Thank God for the second doctor who told me about this and sent me here as an option. I will be forever grateful.

As for me and my VT, I’m wrapping up with about 7 sessions under my belt. Literally. I’ve left my drippy days behind and have learned a whole slew of other skills for taking care of my body as it ages. (Thanks for hanging with me to the end.)

For more info on Brande, go to her site:


Posted in health, healthy living | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Ego, Go Home!

DSCN5136I spent the past four days pretending I know how to watercolor. I’m exhausted. I may stay in my jammies all day. Just the pure act of locking my ego in a closet while I engage in the creative process without attachment to end product felt much like a full time job. We had lots of conversation, my ego and I, and not all of it friendly.

So I bravely present you with my first portrait/watercolor picture of my youngest son which I actually focused on for a few days. TahDah. Let’s call it “Jordie” (c.2015). Don’t judge. I received a glowing praise from my youngest: “It’s not that bad. LOL.”

My older son, who understands I cry easily, was even more enthusiastic. “It’s really good!!! And, you even made him look chubby!” (Spoiler alert: He’s definitely not chubby and we spend much time trying to make sure he’s eating. Artistic license, I suppose.)

But here’s the thing. These past four days were so not about that. They involved something much deeper than the end product and I feel compelled to share that with you. I tossed around two ideas all four days and experienced different levels of each depending on where I was in the creative process.

One was ego. I have done many things in my life and excelled at many things I’ve tried. Ergo, when I don’t, I feel embarrassed, or incompetent, or fill in the blank. At that point, I have to make a choice. Do I run the other way and never subject myself to that humiliation again? Or, do I decide to develop my humility muscles and let go of attachment to perfection (and all first cousins thereof)?

I say it’s a choice, but it’s really not. I came to this planet to grow and stretch and evolve. If I’m always playing in the sandbox that I’m comfortable in, how do I do that? I find that my own growth takes place so much faster if I step into someone else’s sandbox and learn how to appreciate their toys. The ego, then, needed to take a long Rumplestiltskinny nap and let me play without interfering.

But my ego was like an unruly toddler in the teething phase…

Ego: Don’t put that color there. You’re going to end up with a bright, red raspberry on your son’s left eyebrow! What kind of mother are you?

Me: Shhhhhh. It’s not about raspberries!

Ego: Oh, wow! Look over there. These painters are like REALLY good painters. Real painters. Not like–eh hem–pretend painters.

Me: (Frozen, paintbrush in hand dripping water on my ridiculously expensive French paper which I’m hoping compensates for my lack of skill) I can’t look! I just have to work on my own creative process.

Ego: Fraidy cat. You’re gonna wanna see this.

You get the gist. At one point, my neighbor painter said I was humming. I wasn’t aware. She said that meant I was relaxing into it. I was happy about that. And that leads me to the second point: the collective.

Writers, like artists, require certain skills along the introverted line to become good writers. You have to be able to sit in your own space and imagination to create a story. You have to be able to sustain that over a period of time. To become good, you have to do it very consistently. Then, after you’ve got that under your belt and you publish a novel, you require a whole different set of skills. You must promote. This involves networking, promoting, public speaking, marketing, and so forth. As you progress and become more widely published (or commissioned, or do art shows, or teach lessons, etc. in the art community), you stagger between both sets of skills, joining them together and an ever so delicate dance.

Artists are a super-sensitive lot who I gather may be easily overwhelmed in a mall with all the various sensory aspects and energies. As a group, they are colorful. They often lead colorful lives and see the world in very specific and detailed ways. They talk in what seems code to a newbie. Negative space is a phrase they love to use. They point at a peach face and say “Do you see how there is blue here and red there and a blend with yellows here?”

“Um, no… Looks like peach to me.”

Yet, when you spend a few days in their company, you hear yourself, “That shadow is blue. Oh, and the tip of the nose. Thalo blue plus permanent rose. That’s exactly what that is.”

It’s fascinating, really. After four days of Jeannie Vodden and a class of 17 artists from around the North State, I see things I have never seen. I will never be able to describe a protagonist with just blue eyes because I’ll be thinking, “Are those cobalt blue eyes, with a violet blend on the ring? Where’s the light source at this moment?”

Jeannie, a divinely talented artist from Jackson (the county seat of Amador County, known as The Heart of the Motherlode), was the motherlode herself. Her technique, which I learned was new to all the artists there, was the signature method she developed to create a glowing effect to the often-duller, pasty watercolor look. Her paintings are nothing short of glorious. Check out “Love at First Sight.” (c2014)vodden.1

When you look at this, you’d think she used all sorts of different paint colors. However, one of the unique aspects of this style, I learned, is she uses only three: red, blue and yellow. Sure, they have fancy names and makers, but basically the 3 primaries.  All this effect is created from years of learning to layer those into this luminescent beauty of many colors.

Yeah, that’s not intimidating at all.

We spent four days learning how to layer to create new color using this portrait. Here’s “Elle.” (c2014). After Elle, we could move on to one of our own.


As mentioned, capturing this light comes from using only three colors over and over. The light comes from layers. I started to think about how people are like that. What makes them beautiful is their unique layers, the shadows and the light, and how they all layer together. I think that’s why I have a really tough time with “ego driven surface talk” where we don’t talk about what’s really important in our lives. We just paint the mask we want the world to see. It confuses me because I feel more meaningful layers shining out from underneath the people I meet.  I want to peel back the layers (perhaps too soon and too deep for many) and look in a person’s soul to see what makes them unique and what their purpose is in the world. The mother in me wants to nurture and encourage that. To pay attention to what really matters.

Back to the collective. Sitting with a group of artists, creating, watching the creative process unfold through the layers of each unique being in the room, feeling the support of all those around me expressed in their own unique ways, I really understand much more about what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his fantastic essay “Self-Reliance.” Emerson says that before we can create evolved societies as a group, we must spend the time allowing our Divine uniqueness to unfold. To copy, or imitate, is suicide. We learn, we sift it through our filter, and we make it our own unique experience. That’s where our power lies.

Now, see, if I let my ego boss me into not taking this class, I would have missed all those gems. I’m so grateful I didn’t.

For more information on artist Jeannie Vodden, visit

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, creativity, healthy living, hobbies, Inspiration, metaphysical, visual arts | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments