Bats in the Big City!

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Greetings family, friends, and virtual co-villagers! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season and are enjoying the New Year. We’ve been busily focused on family time, working on projects, and both mentally and physically preparing for our yearly trek … Continue reading

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One Lump Sum(mer)

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Greetings virtual villagers and family, new and old. We’ve been up to our eyeballs in home living and working (and playing!) for the last few months; having long, flash-past days, and short, did-I-even-sleep nights; squeezing the most out of every 24-hour cycle … Continue reading

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What the Heck is This?

This is the blog from the project on which I’ve been working for the last month — and also why you haven’t seen or heard from me here as of late. I thought some of you might enjoy it. ❤

28 DAYS at the BRINK!

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28 Days at the Brink is the blog for the art show DreamCatching, appearing April 2015 at the Brink Gallery in Missoula Montana. DreamCatching is a live multimedia performance and visual art extravaganza. A life-goal of my own coming true!

For 28 days, I will be personally installed in the Brink Gallery. While there, I will be living and working on a mélange of epic proportions. There will be:

1) A live (and broadcast) opening show performance on First Friday, April 3rd.

2) A live camera feed of the entire month — you’ll see me working, living, performing, and sleeping in the space.

3) Live *free* coaching sessions (seen but not heard on the camera feed) designed to assist participants in moving toward a big dream of their own. Each participant may create a small piece to contribute to the show.

4) Regular collaborative performances and weekly gatherings…

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That Lovely Last Week in Santa Cruz…

Hey Folks! It’s been a couple weeks too long since I’ve updated you on the family goings-on with us. This has largely been due to the fact that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in the preparation and execution of the biggest visual and performance art show of my life. There’s a link to more information about that at the end of this post.

Now for the pics! Below, you’ll find a slew of images from, our eldest daughter, Izabella’s weeklong visit with us in Santa Cruz, and my last week there before returning to Missoula to do my show.

Bella and I hit the Boardwalk the first day she was with us for a surgical mission to all her favorite rides.IMG_1869 The Undertow, which is pretty new on the boardwalk, may be the funnest roller coaster I’ve ever been on… I just wish it was twice as long! We rode that right away and multiple times during our several hours there.IMG_4654 Bella’s favorite ride remains the Giant Dipper. I went on it with her once, and then she went again — and got a double ride that time as the workers just let the cars go on through without stopping. I shot this picture of the screen that captures everyone’s reactions going passed a particular spot on the ride.IMG_4746 This year, Bella took on the challenge (solo!) of doing the run-away-elevator-styled, “Double Shot”, which not only drops you like a freefall, but starts by shooting you up to over a hundred feet in the air like a rocket first! You can see the concentration…IMG_1861 Speaking of concentration… Bella got handed a copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris and devoured the thing in about 24 hours. The math homework she brought took all week… No doubt whose kid she is!LW1Echo had a Girl Scout performance that required the use of this Sari as a costume, which provided a lovely opportunity for her to enjoy trying it out several times in the week leading up. I love how well she matches the print in the background…LW2Another fun trip that last week was back to the San Francisco Zoo! Rrrraaawrr!IMG_4712 We nosed around with the anteater…IMG_4715 Bear-hugged on the bear…IMG_4729Who then gave Bella a ride…IMG_1883

To another hugfest!IMG_4997 Echo and Bella played (and snuggled) at the zoo playground…IMG_4748Here, she was needing a break, so Bella was just lion around…IMG_4749We were inspired by The Thinker…
IMG_1875 Impressed by the peacock…IMG_1880Saw this Alice in Wonderland butterfly with shades on her head…
IMG_1882Practiced our tourist looks…IMG_4974 It seems like we color-match our children, but I promise, they just accidentally fit in a fashion spread together.IMG_4983 See what I mean?IMG_4990 This bird almost brushed my brow with his wing. Then stood less than a foot from me while I snapped several shots of his impressive derrière…LW4Almost as impressive and certainly just as willing to let me get close-up were these lovely Pincushion flowers — one of my new favorites in Santa Cruz.LW3We went to the Cove and got to beach it up in a major way! Including Henry!IMG_1904The girls challenged the waves…
IMG_1909And played in the sand to their hearts’ content.IMG_1914And, we have the photo proof now, it’s official, Bella is taller than Grammy! No offense Grammy…
IMG_4663On Bella’s and my last day in Santa Cruz, I gave this girl the first real haircut she’s ever had — not just a trim but 6 inches. This was before; for some reason I can’t find any “after” shots! The real reason I included this shot is because I’m missing this girl something fierce. I came back a few weeks earlier than Natalie and Echo so that I could engage my art show and this will be the longest that Echo and I have ever been apart, making for the absolute most difficult portion of my current endeavor.
IMG_1916For those of you that are interested, here’s a link to the blog for my project: https://dreamcatchingshow.wordpress.com; be sure to check out the About page for a complete description.

I’ll be here a little more in the coming weeks, and back to normal next month! Hope you all are enjoying your Spring!

*

Be well.

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Out with a Roar

Well it’s that time again, folks! Another week of super-fun has come and gone and I barely have time to pause here now to share with you a Spanish alphabet’s worth of highlights from all the great (and some bitter-sweet) things we’ve had going on! So — right to the goods:

Just to recap — we’re in Santa Cruz for the back half of Winter, living and working and visiting with Natalie’s extended family on both sides. For the last two weeks we had our dear friends from Missoula, the Daniels, visiting and staying on the compound with us.

Ok, so — now right to the goods:

1. Selah is a great example of why we humans reproduce. She’s a diplomat for babies and parenting advocates everywhere. The only fear is that sometime or other, one of her grown-ups just might eat her. We had one more week to all get our fixes, so pretty much my whole family was fighting to get our last shot(s) at basking in her attention. Here, she and I were right in the middle of an excellent game of “don’t tuck that in my shoe!”.3.4.15a2. Santa Cruz is one of those towns (like Missoula, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco) that is just so, well — itself. Everywhere we go, we’re reminded that there’s no town like this one. And that fact seems cherished by all. I’ve never seen so many “This Town” bumperstickers in all my travels as in “Santa Cruz”. So while I know there’s probably other towns that have a rule like the one below, there’s still something about this sign that is absolutely, iconically, so Santa Cruz.3.4.15b3. Juju gets to be the Daniel kids’ grandpa while they’re here. They always just fold right in for stories or pancakes or movies. And, I don’t know for sure, but he doesn’t seem too bothered… 😉3.4.15q4. We celebrated, Aunt Emily’s partner, David’s birthday right alongside a celebration for the Daniel girls (since we’re in Santa Cruz and they are in Missoula during all of their birthdays). This is, I know, a hilarious shot for that particular occasion since none of those people are actually in this shot… But! I wanted you to get to see the cakes that Romy and Natalie made. And these ladies singing the birthday song with 4 names to add to the crescendo line…
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5. Romy is a braidsmith among many other things, so our girls often like to avail themselves of her talents when she’s near. Just another of the many benefits of village living!3.4.15r6. Speaking of village living… One of the things Natalie and I enjoyed most this year was that while our own kids were away on grandparent dates (spending the night with Grammy, or as you’ll see in a minute…), we got to be Aunt Natalie and Uncle Nathan! Just two, energetic adults available to wrestle kids and hug out hurts and read stories and play in the creek. I preferred to call us both “Aunt and Uncle Nath-alie”, but it didn’t really catch on.3.4.15ra7. There’s this funny little oasis down behind the compound where the natural Branciforte Creek gets channelled into a storm drainage chute to be carried to the nearby Santa Cruz River on it’s way to the ocean. It was converted at this point to help manage the huge swells that occur nearly every time there is a heavy rain, and thereby avoid (more) flooding. We like to take the kids there sometimes on warm days when we aren’t going to the beach. The girls make forays up the creek, and run up the high slanted sides of the channel-opening, and throw sticks and leaves into the quick slip of water speeding down the chute.3.4.15s8. Our crew on the move. Walking back from the creek. 3.4.15c9. Olive shining her radiant light.3.4.15t9. The neighbors got a little nosey one day…
3.4.15dNo, not really… We all went together to the San Francisco Zoo! The giraffes were a favorite to be sure. But the whole thing was absolutely amazing!!3.4.15e There were strange but beautiful birds…3.4.15fSalome led a band of marauders riding giant geese!
3.4.15gThe girls almost got lost in an enormous underground burrow!
3.4.15pAnd we all got to scratch around in the dirt for snacks!3.4.15hThere was an informative talk with three knowledgable zoo workers. 3.4.15iNatalie (and the rest of us, too, but mostly Natalie) got to pet some animals…3.4.15jWe had a sit-down with the grizzly bear.3.4.15kXi grew wings!
3.4.15lSalome and Echo spent some time as giraffes.3.4.15mThe girls all rode this hippo, while taking turns looking at the other hippo (in the background)…3.4.15nwho was playing a very dedicated game of aqua-ball! This game of dunking, stalling, holding the ball under, pinning it to the side, and biting it like you would bite the outside of an uncut watermelon went on without stop for a long time! We were all pretty mesmerized by the hippo — a very fast, very deft, superlatively athletic aqua-ball player. When we gave up and went on to the next area, the hippo was still playing.3.4.15o

We made a day of the zoo trip, standing long and gazing deeply into the faces, feathers, and fur of all the many beautiful animals, passing around the mono- and  binoculars we borrowed from Juju, guffawing loudly in turn, and then racing on to the next attraction. I personally could have spent the entire day watching the gorillas! But for some reason, I did not get any good pictures of them… Too busy gaping, I guess.

10. Since Xi was leaving with the Daniels to go back to Missoula (and reunite with her Mom), she spent the last week checking things off her “must do before leaving” list. The girls went to Grammy’s for the last overnight (though, they didn’t actually stay all night this time…); Xi hung out with her pal(s) across the street one last time, soaked up plenty of Selah snuggles, got a personal date with Bonnie and some Papa-Xi time, too; and then on the last day, this — Echo, Xi, and Bonnie finally got to run away together and get their nails done! The ladies at the salon sent us this picture, which I absolutely love… The girls were so appreciative and pleased with their candied digits, each showing off the jewel-centered flowers painted on their thumbs and big toes.
3.4.15w11. While they were away, we got to send Suresh and Romy off on a lunch date together, and took their kids back to the creek to play one last time.

Really it was the only way that I could engineer for me to get Selah away from her parents and Xi who are always monopolizing her attention! She spent the majority of the time in my arms. We looked up-close at Wisteria pods and collected a fistful of seeds (that I spread around later…) before heading down to throw leaves into the creek. I’d toss in a leaf and walk a few steps along with it pointing it out to Selah who watched it carefully before the current swept it away and we would both say together, “Byyyyyye Leeeeaaaf!” and wave it out of sight. “Again,” she’d mumble into my heart, and I’d turn on the spot and fetch us another leaf. Then repeat the whole process. We did that at least 10 times on this day, and a similar game at least 20 times on the previous creek visit. Now that’s solid almost-2 entertainment!
3.4.15vWhy are Aunts and Uncles so much cooler than parents? The kids think we’re cooler… We feel somehow cooler — more like hip adult playmates than guardians or dare I say parents… What the heck is that about?

One more shout-out for village living!
3.4.15u12. Also on everyone’s “must do before leaving” list was one more trip to Top-A-Lot! Xi and I were basically joined at the hip by this point and remained so until she left.3.4.15x

13. But leave she did, as did all of our friends, in one fell swoop. At 6:30am on Saturday, they were peeled from us amid many thanks and tears and promises and hugs and I love yous in the misty, bird-crowded morning.

Fortunately for all involved (including all you unsuspecting co-passengers on the planes they all took) Xi went with the Daniels all the way to Missoula and right to her mother’s waiting arms. It was a little bit of a bumpy ride for them, but I’m so glad they all had each other. Selah and Xi in particular share a special bond and had a good time throughout the two weeks we were all together and on their way back. They all love Xi, though, and she loves them, so it worked out nicely (though, she did try to puke on a few of them… and did get them all sick afterward…). People that saw them kept commenting on Romy’s 4 lovely daughters…

3.4.15y14. After milling about for a long time Saturday morning trying to figure out how to manage going on with so few of us, we went to the farmer’s market and then to Great Gramma Alice’s. Juju gave her an amazing pedicure — I mean the guy could work in any salon in the world — he swept out her entire bungalow, and made the bed; while we all scuttled around him making way and/or getting a better view. This Saturday ritual (with or without the monthly pedicure) is one of my favorite Santa Cruz weeklies. We felt a little hollow this week, if only because we were such a skeleton crew, but also because we were already missing our villagers and our Xi — nevertheless, we carried on in good spirits and enjoyed a good show!3.4.15z15. I rounded out the weekend by spending a fair amount of time in the various gardens of the compound, pruning, digging, transplanting, and fine-tuning. Here’s a shot of the sunset from the “secret garden”, off the back of the property, where I’ve done a good bit of work this season. From this spot, one can look out over the creek where we take the kids, and the undulating hills to the west. It’s a lovely private spot hidden by bay trees who stand just far enough apart for you to peek out over the valley between them.3.4.15za16. Juju asked me to dig a water meter out of the gopher mine-tailings and flood run-off that had filled it’s protective cover-box. I shoveled for a while unearthing the apparatus which had a latex lid over it’s face. Then I got down on my knees and with the deluxe rubber-finger garden gloves at the compound, I continued to pull out handfuls of dirt, sweeping off ledges and digging out crannies with my armored fingertips, and generally getting the inside of that meter box as clean as it can reasonably get. I was listening to a conversation in my head in which one of my internal voices was explaining how I was the type of person to really take on a task like this, to make it an opportunity, and to use it to honour my own integrity — and, I had to laugh a little, those voices in our heads can get so carried away sometimes, can’t they? But I could still hear the truth in it. I was taking the task at hand very seriously. I was doing my best. And even though it is a plastic cover-box laying in the actual dirt over a section of pipe that would otherwise be buried, I was going to make sure that, right then, it was as clean as it was ever going to get. I swept at the flap covering the face of the meter. I opened it and flicked away the dirt from its heavy plastic window. It was pretty… So I flicked on, getting as much as I could off the readable surface of the meter. And then in the last few swipes, I uncovered those numbers at the top and stopped, shaking my head. “Not really. Surely it doesn’t really, only have my lucky number 212 on it?” I said outloud. I mean… right…? There’s no way that actually happens — at least not without the universe winking. Is there?!

I love it!3.4.15zb17. Another thing I love is this hair. Bella and her hair are coming hair, no, here in another week and a half!! Hair below, you can see the latest cut and color. I never went so boldly with the color, myself, we just didn’t have that level of technology at my friends’, but I’m pretty sure I had that ‘doo at about the same age! Can’t wait to see her and feel so glad that she’s getting to join us for a quick visit during the school session. Woohoo!3.4.15zc18. Arnold is still kicking it in our mudroom. He comes out just about every night and eats several times his body weight in Romaine, leaving a trail of green BB’s in his wake. Any day now, we expect the biggest Giant Leopard Moth cocoon in history to be hanging from the wicker table. I hope I get to see him at his coming out party!3.4.15ze13.b. It took 24 hours before I could turn off the globe lamp that I had turned on the morning Xi was getting up and ready and leaving, and a few days after that before I could strip the bed and finally prepare the room to be without her. No matter how much time we get with her up front, the end always comes too soon and the distance until next time we see her feels like eons. This being only the second year that we’ve been doing this whole “first quarter in Santa Cruz” thing, we still aren’t used to going so long without seeing her — she’s gone back and forth every few days or every other week most of her life, and still does when we’re in Missoula. So it’s just doubly tough to see her go, even though we just had two months straight with her. All of this goes double-double for Bella who usually only gets to come over to have time with us in between sessions of school. I know some parents have no trouble with it, but I never get used to what it feels like when they go…
3.4.15zdHold your babies close, my friends. And make sure they know how much they mean to you.

Even though we’re a teeny group now, we’re going to go on having big fun. I hope you and yours do too!

*

Be well.

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The More the Merrier!

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Greetings all, from the catbird seat! For the last week, we’ve been having even more fun than we were already — more than I thought possible in some senses… And why, how, what on earth is responsible for this astounding … Continue reading

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More of the Same… Wonderfulness!

Hey All! Our week was chocked so full of goodness that I’m only getting to the Friday Family Update on Sunday! And frankly, our day today is jammed packed enough with more fun that I haven’t got long now! So without further delay…

1. Meet our friend Arnold. He’s the Leopard Moth caterpillar that’s been living in the mud room for the last several days. He’s mowed through a number of pieces of Romaine and is setting up camp under the wicker table he’s pictured on below. We think he’s going to caccoon-up any day now!
2.13.15b2. We we went to the beach on the day after some pretty good storms came through. The bay had been choppy for a few days at least (both leading up to and including the stormy weekend), and the tide was still swollen and turbid when we went. And all along the shore, where the waves had run pellmell with their wakes full of treasures dredged and forged by their own tumbling vigor, they left, well — seafoam. Miles and miles of seafoam stranded at the tide’s furthest reach wiggling oddly in the wind, or swirling and churning like steaming milk against the rocks, or sailing speedily across the shallows. We called it “beach snow” and played games avoiding it and kicking sand at it and watching it float about. I’ve never seen anything like it!2.13.15aYou can click the link there –> for a 20 second video of The Foam that Came from the Sea.

3. Great Grandma Alice was over for her biweekly visit. Natalie made lunch, and we all hung out together. Alice’s birthday was this week — her birthdate is my lucky number actually: 212 — February 12th. Natalie also ended up learning how to make lemon meringue pie and crafted a beauteous one for the birthday girl’s party, which consisted of only a half-dozen 90-something lady friends having a private lunch at Natalie’s aunt’s. It turns out, 4 out of 6 great-grammas prefer Nat’s pie to the leading brand. 😉2.13.15c 4. Finally, we made it to the Roller Palladium! We had our inaugural trip this week and immediately made plans for the next one. I even got to use my new skates!2.13.15d 5. Aunts are great.2.13.15e 6. During Grammy-time this week Xi, Echo, and Grammy had a fashion shoot. The girls picked outfits from Grammy’s clothes. 2.13.15f2.13.15g 7. And then this happened…2.13.15h We took several hours and did some Boardwalking! Though we’d agreed to go in order to join some others, it turned out to be just Xi, Echo, Natalie, and I, and we hit all the major spots for the under-twelve set. A couple ferris wheel rides, a couple cave train rides, a couple bumper-car sets, and a few others peppered in made for a perfect amount of mellow sense-overloading and pleasant laugh-rioting…

2.13.15jI think the shot above is perhaps a perfect Santa Cruz Boardwalk encapsulization (lacking only a good view of the sky glider): to the far left you can just see the beach and edge of the tide; then all the rides in between; the mountains in the distance, and the river runs along the middle right side, just under the bright green log flume. You can see it all! And that’s Natalie and Xi in front of us, too.

And the shot below is a classic one for our family. We’re missing our Bella (of course) but the girls said we couldn’t leave without taking this shot.2.13.15i

8. And last but not least, here’s the latest episode of Today Today which happened this week too!

Today we’re jumping in to hang out with some Missoula friends who arrived last night! More on that later… 🙂

*

Be well.

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Fun in the Sun (and on Mars!)

Another week has rolled by in a speedy succession of delightful (emphasis on full) days! We’ve been busy to the max, both with work and with play. Here’s a sample of the view from here:

I’ve been out in the garden! One of my favorite parts of being in Santa Cruz this time of year is that I get a break from the Montana Winter gardening-doldrums. You can’t do a heck of a lot of playing in the dirt when the dirt is under a heap of snow… So getting a break from the break, so to speak, is always welcome. One of my current projects at the Paradise Compound is cleaning up the Clivias. The shot below is from the clutch of Clivia berries I collected during the project. Each one has 1-5 little bulbs inside ready for planting — which is just what the next phase is all about!2.6.15a We hiked a new trail in De Laveaga this week. The redwoods there are always cause for marveling, but lately we’ve been appreciating the geology more as well. On the hike captured below, we talked a lot about limestone (which is featured in this ≈5′ rock wall).2.6.15b Speaking of features, you can’t go anywhere in Santa Cruz without being followed by the ubiquitous citrus. This lovely lemon tree lives right outside our front door but never fails to visually sneak up on me. I just can’t get used to fruit in the Winter, let alone these radiant easter eggs littering the landscape.2.6.15c And when it comes to landscapes of the Santa Cruz area, none so dominates the aesthetic grandeur as where the land meets the ocean. I grew up going to the Alabama and Florida sections of the Gulf of Mexico, with its sugary, flat, Saharan coastline, water temps normally in the 70s–80s, and the sun a steady year-round blaze. In Monterey Bay, the shoreline is a jagged infinity of undulating cliffs, rocks, and tawny, coarse sand; the water is often below 60˚; and the sun regularly plays hide and seek in the fog (especially in Summer).
On this day, below, we went to New Brighton State Beach to meet up with our friends from Eco Womb — The Malsons — for some sun-setting, full-moon-rising, hangout time on the shore. Here’s a view from the tidepools of the sun going down.2.6.15f And here’s the whole crew! Meeting up with the Malsons is becoming one of my favorite parts of our seasonal Santa Cruzian time.2.6.15g One of my least favorite parts has reared its gruesome head early this year. It looks unassuming enough in the shot below, but, aaaalllllllllllll of those grey vines are just waiting for some poor hapless fool to come along and get ensnared in itches! I “found” some this week in my gardening exploits and have been ruing the proverbial day ever since. Nevertheless, I laughed outloud when I saw this sign on our hike, being in the only spot along the trail where we didn’t see any obvious sign of the oily devil weed.2.6.15hThis week, one of the funnest projects has been creating our own little show called, Today Today. Here, you can see our make-up artist, Natalie, getting Xi ready for the show.
2.6.15d Finishing touches on the make-up…2.6.15eTo check out this week’s episode when host, Fred Sharply, interviews three people who accidentally went to Mars, you can go here: http://youtu.be/vBhw7lnBLiE . We hope you enjoy the show!

And I hope you and yours are enjoying your days as much as we are!

*

Be well.

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Up Around the Bend…

Aaaaaahhh… Back to the woods! We’ve been revisiting our old haunt De Laveaga Park!1.27.15 One of my favorite things about the trail we often take (and it’s indicative of other trails there too) is the numerous horseshoe bends. Walking along, we cut far into a drainage ravine and then double back out of the ravine, offering these wonderful views of our own comings and goings. It feels labyrinthine and magical and metaphorical, adding to the overall reverence we feel walking through these wise, old trees.

Another fun thing about it is that we can bring family! On this hike we had our little group, but we also brought Grammy and Aunt Em (and little Levy) with us as well.1.27.15a 1.27.15b 1.27.15cFor me, there’s nothing better than a mystical stroll through an enchanted (and enchanting) forest with family. That’ll be my Heaven. And this ^ is my Heaven on Earth!

I hope you’re finding your sweet spot(s), too, dear ones!

*

Be well.

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*Made* It!!

Greetings friends, family, and followers from sunny Santa Cruz, California!

1.23.15 Ok, really, these are some of our last images from Missoula before we left. Echo got to make her last two snow people of the year, and Xi got to make her first ever solo snow person! This is how they looked in the evening glow…1.23.15a As we emptied the house of our personal items (in preparation for our departure and the arrival of our renters), Echo found new and inventive ways to enjoy the extra space; including this fort she made for herself in the coat closet.1.23.15c Once we were all packed up, we were finally ready to head out!1.23.15d First stop: Voodoo Donuts in Portland Oregon! Ok, we honestly, spent the night at, Natalie’s sister, Em’s house (even though she’d already gone ahead of us to Santa Cruz), we had a lovely fire and crashed in her cozy attic guest beds, and then woke up the next morning and hit the donut shop on our way out of town…1.23.15e By the next day, we’d arrived in Santa Cruz and were headed to the beach!1.23.15f And aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh… we made it. Back to the ocean at last!1.23.15i And, oddly enough, even after a decade of coming to the very same dog beach time after time, this was the very first that we’d noticed the amazing cliff carvings along the narrow strip of sand and surf.1.23.15g Gigantic, deep-cut sculptures of sea animals, mer-people, ancient and modern symbols and geometry, and proclamations of love and partnership decorate a few hundred yards of these soft, undulating sand-cliffs.1.23.15h Em and Levy met and came with us to the beach, where these characters played a hilarious improv game called, “The 3 Idiots”, challenging, and trying to stand up to the tide in numerous ways, but invariably running cowardly away at the last second. 1.23.15j Then, of course, we had to have our inaugural trip to Top-a-Lot!1.23.15kSo, we’re officially in Santa Cruz now. The long trip, the long packing job, and the long wait for ideal renters is over. We made it.

We’ll be here if you need us!

*

Be well.

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The Proof is in the… Argument?!

Looking for EvidenceWe naturally all look at how our children are being for signs of how we’re doing as parents. We measure our methods by our successes in parenting just as much as we do in any other vital endeavor — as we’ve been taught in every institution known to humanity (except maybe government…). We monitor and gauge regularly to attempt to ascertain — as if by séance — whether or not they are “going to turn out ok”…

Well, maybe we don’t all get into it as much or as consciously as that. 😉 The fact is, most of the time, most of us wind up going about our parenting lives pretty much on autopilot. And even those of us who are trying to really consider what we’re doing, and do it mindfully, must muddle through with whatever parenting programing we inherited constantly and often mysteriously pulling our emotional levers from behind the proverbial curtain. Our conscious minds have so little power over our subconscious and unconscious minds that if our parenting ideals are extremely different from our programming, we can really struggle to make change, or even stay focused on the endeavor — so powerful are the underlying consciousnesses of the human mind, that they can cause all manner of distraction and misperception in order to keep us on the pre-programmed path.

So we tend not to measure our results very often, right?

The main time we do measure them is when things aren’t going as well as we’d like. We think — “Yikes! We’d really better do something! And fast! ‘Cause this — ain’t working…”. And we flail around a bit, maybe get a book or two, ask around, get a tarot reading. Maybe we decide on a change and go for it. Maybe we decide to be more vehement with the thing(s) to which we’ve already committed — “really stick to it this time”. Either way, within a short period, we’re either no further along toward that new way of doing, or worse about it than ever. It can be tremendously challenging to affect change in our approach(es) to parenting.

Another way we sometimes measure the effect of a new method, or the tried and true ones to which we’ve (re)dedicated ourselves, is that we attribute the higher grades, or better behavior in class, or the more responsible attitude toward cleaning up, to the methodology. We point at any correlating successes to shore up our beliefs about what we’re doing.

But still not that often, right? We’re just not taught to think about it very much…

The prevailing parenting mythos asks for a blind faith in what the “experts” tell us, regardless of our experiences, our intuitions, or our own eyes. When, for example, praise and punishment fail to secure cooperation, let alone compliance, let alone conformity, or “good behavior” — we’re not taught to question the methods. No! We’re told to turn up the volume! Don’t ask if there’s something lacking in the approach, just do it more!

Well, after over 14 years of working diligently — really, every day — to reform my knee-jerk tendencies, and to calm and regulate and reprogram my sensitive limbic system, and to habitualize the practice of reaching for empathy instead of logic when things go awry for my children — I’ve come to be a little hyper-attentive to how what we do works. My partner, Natalie, and I study the effects of our chosen approach(es) to parenting our girls quite regularly. Obviously, a lot of it comes just from wanting to feel more sure that we’re safe out here in the dangerous (and reportedly “evil”) terra incognita of parenting with connection and leadership instead of with the carrot and stick. We’re reassuring ourselves that we aren’t totally f#¢≤ing our kids up with all this radical hippy voodoo touchy-feely stuff! 😉

Well, typically, we’ve been (self)trained to keep our eyes peeled for how well it’s working. Naturally… Just the other day, however, something amazing unfolded in our living room. And it wasn’t proof of how well we’ve taught our girls to “do it right” — to “get long” or to “play nicely”. It was proof of what we’ve taught them about how to handle it when things go wrong.

Here’s how Natalie put it:

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This rug is the place to be these days. Kids, cats, and Littlest Pet Shop figurines convene here for hours. Yesterday the girls were hunkered down, speaking sister language about the characters in their games – what their names are, where they live, how many babies they have. In general I tune this stuff out, it comes into my ears as “kids are content” and thus I do what all parents around the world do when their kids are happily busy, my own thing.

Parents aren’t fools. We let sleeping dogs lie, er, I mean, playing kids play.

Eventually their play changed tune and began to reach me. Their voices grew louder, higher pitched and anxious. In turn I felt my blood pressure rise. I am triggered by my children fighting. Even now, years and years down this path of parenting with empathy I still have to process my own feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and anger – called forth from sibling fighting, in order to be of any use to them as a parent.

Then I got distracted and turned away for a moment and when my attention returned I eavesdropped a little. To my utter delight they were explaining their perspectives on the situation. Each girl detailed how they came to the game with certain expectations and that now that those expectations weren’t being met things were unravelling. They took turns. They empathized, nodding heads in understanding. Basically neither was happy with the direction of the game. They didn’t reach a solution. Neither changed her mind.

They just listened.

Big sister Xi asked little sister Echo if she needed a hug. They held each other and rocked and patted backs. Giggles emerged. Then, just like that, they launched back into the game completely unattached to previous expectations, giddy and eager and open to the game going in an entirely different direction.

I didn’t even leave my chair. They didn’t even notice me snapping the photo (above).

These girls. These sisters that have fought their entire lives with tears and blood and week-long grudges, well, these sisters still fight. They are never going to agree all day, every day, and that’s fine, especially as it seems they have learned how to fight well.

Air your feelings.

Listen.

Empathize.

Touch.

Be Free.

I am so happy. I am happy for me and what this means for our daily life. I am happy to have invested years’ worth of time helping them process feelings. I am happy for the girls and what it means for them and their daily lives. And I am over-the-moon happy for the future selves of these girls – how easy they will sit in the face of emotional discomfort, how steady they will stand for the emotional discomfort of others.

May you always fight well girls.

Personally, I’m still scratching my head over it. I find their emotional intelligence, and their ability to regulate their own emotions enough to tap into such deep wells of empathy for each other at such an emotionally challenging moment nothing short of staggering. I mean, how many of us adults still struggle, or fail utterly, at this kind of delicate, often tense negotiation?! I come away from something like this thinking how absurdly fast the tables can turn — our students have suddenly transformed into the teachers, and we teachers have become the students! If only I could handle myself so well when my “expectations [aren’t] being met”!

Even now, I find myself  wondering, if we’ve succeeded in helping our children develop such prowess, as imperfect as we are in our roles as guides here — what more lies in wait for us as we continue along this path of reprogramming ourselves, of enriching our own emotional intelligence, and growing our own emotional capacity?…! What more have we to gain from our commitment to parenting with connection and leadership, and with faith in the things we’ve seen, and felt, and intuited in our heart of hearts? What other magic does our deepening empathy have in store for us?

I simply can’t wait to find out!

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Be well. And be brave on this path, my fellow pioneers! We’re getting there!

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P.S. Part of my mission in life is empowering parents like you (and me!) in doing the demanding work of turning your parenting around, teaching yourself to reach for connection instead of coercion, and learning how to lead instead of trying to control. No one should have do this work alone, and there’s no better way to ensure your success than to get support. Please don’t hesitate to reach out! I’m here to help.

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Holiday Highlights — Belated, Yes, but Beautiful!

This gallery contains 31 photos.

Greetings and Happy New Year, dear family, friends, and fellow virtual villagers! I resurfaced from our two-plus-weeks of holiday stay-cation almost a week ago, but I’ve been playing simultaneous games of catch-up and leap-frog since then, so this is the … Continue reading

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The Power of Empathy in Parenting — A Video Interview

Greetings fam-friends! The link below is to a video interview that Wendy McDonell of Compassionate Solutions did with me last week on the subject of using empathy in parenting. I hope you like it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_1cRqQCzE4

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Be well.

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The Myth of the Self-Soothing Infant

crying-baby-001I can sum up today’s post in one sentence. That wasn’t it though… 😉 It’s simply this (and it may sound familiar if you’ve read many of my posts at all): The human brain is born without the ability to manage emotional content without support; if we get help early on, then we can develop that ability, but only if (and only as much as) we are assisted in developing it. Period. That’s just all there is to it. No infant anywhere ever was born with the ability to soothe himself, calm himself down when he is upset, or cry freely and safely to completion in a healthy manner without caregiver support. And if you don’t want to read the rest of my pontification about it, that’s enough for you to know at present. If you’re like me, though, and you always want to know a little more, then by all means read on!

I’ve done a little looking around, and it was apparently around 100 years ago in his book,  The Care and Feeding of Infants, that Dr. Luther Emmet Holt publicized the notion that we should allow our infants the opportunity to practice self-soothing, say when they are upset, or when they’ve been left to fall asleep alone. “Ferberization”, “respecting babies’ right to cry”, “controlled crying”, or the less friendly Holtian terminology, “cry it out”, are all ways that parenting “experts” have referred to the practice of leaving children to manage their own emotions. We’re coached by such pundits to ignore the crying, and/or to sit nearby and not help or make eye-contact, and/or to only intervene if the child is making himself sick with the emotion or is in danger. We’re told that “giving in” to the crying, giving them attention for tears, or not allowing them the opportunity to practice self-soothing trains them to be too dependent on us and teaches them how to manipulate us with their emotional displays.

And I can’t mince words here, I have to say, that’s all a bunch of utter and complete nonsense.

I don’t mean to be rude about it. I know that how we treat our kids is so close to our own hearts, and so subconsciously tangled with our own upbringings, self-identities, and triggers. I know that many of us are so full of disinformation about parenting, and children, and the process of maturation, that it’s tremendously difficult to weed out the good- and right-feeling options from the piles and piles of bullsh!t. I know, firsthand, what it’s like to struggle with ineptitude and inexperience when there is a living breathing tiny human depending on you to keep her alive, and well-cared-for, and healthy, let alone happy. I know the kind of reassurance it carries when someone tells you, “babies are resilient, he’ll be fine…”, “sometimes they cry like that no matter what, just let her get it all out…”,  or “eventually, they just stop on their own, if you don’t mess with them…”. And I have actually witnessed an unassisted baby cry until giving up, until stopping. I now feel certain that a baby left to cry without help, doesn’t (eventually) quit because she is “self-soothing”, but rather because her brain has shut itself down from overwhelming panic and stress. Her system is riddled with Cortisol and Adrenaline and everything but minimal homeostasis and the primitive survival mechanism of quiet “fright” is totally. switched. off. This catatonic baby isn’t soothed, it’s instinctually playing dead.

2c3495cb65031ed7615d89e62a13d908To be fair, there are kernels of truth in the myth of the self-soothing infant. Babies do sometimes cry and cry and cry, even after we’ve addressed every potential need we can think of — fed them, changed them, burped them, napped them, checked them for something causing pain or illness, etc.. Sometimes they have pressing emotional hurts that we can’t see; or need to heal lingering, even old, dormant hurts; and crying is the only way they can deal with it. Crying can be healing to be sure — but it absolutely has to be supported, “in arms” crying, in order to work in that respect.

Another kernel of truth is that infants do have some reflexive mechanisms for soothing. One is of course, suckling, which I think more than anything else refers to and/or drives the infant toward the comfort that comes from nursing, which is another major reflexive soothing mechanism. Suckling, however, and the infant’s ability to eventually get her own fist to her mouth in order to use it for that purpose is not, as the “experts” tell us, evidence of the baby willfully self-soothing. Again, suckling is an instinctual reflex — and primarily a reflex built for breastfeeding — not a conscious, “Oh, I’m feeling upset, let me calm myself down” response to upsetting stimuli. And while offering a baby a pacifier to suck on in times of duress can help calm the baby’s brain in a “bottom-up”, primitive manner by attempting to induce positive feelings instead of the painful ones, it does not help wire the brain to manage future duress in the way(s) that assisting baby with our touch, rocking, soothing words, safe arms, and empathy do (which is all called “top-down” emotional soothing).

Leaving a baby to try and “suckle it out” on her own, is akin to only letting her ever ride bikes with training wheels. She won’t be able to balance herself nearly as well if she isn’t given the opportunity to feel what that’s like (first through experiential training, then through instruction, guidance, and support from us, and then through her own practice). The same analogy can be used in the opposite way, as well, in that if we just throw her on a bike all by herself and say, “You got this, I’m going to respect your right to bike!”, and shove her off down the road, she’s going to crash just as surely as you’re reading these words. And by the way, riding a bike is comparative child’s play to mitigating our own upsetting emotions. We all know plenty of adults, or are ones ourselves, who struggle or still can’t get the hang of self-soothing…

So while the brain does come with a rudimentary reflexive positive-feeling-generating mechanism to balance out mild unrest, it is still wholly incapable of successfully employing such a mechanism when the emotional state has reached overwhelm. For one thing, the stress hormone, Cortisol, blocks the release of Oxytocin, which otherwise calms the baby and helps him feel good. An infant’s suckling is not powerful enough to manage a Cortisol cascade like that which being left to cry without support will induce. For serious upset, especially as the infant ages into toddlerhood and the reasons for upset become more complex and personal, every child needs caregiver assistance to safely discharge the feelings, calm down in the moment, and wire the synapses for being able to consciously process and regulate emotion in the future.

If, for whatever reason, we don’t provide emotional support for our upset babies and children, then we set in motion a different version of development for them — a thwarted version. This version is more hyper-reactive to stress, is more likely to respond reflexively to upset (read: more like a primitive animal than a thinking human…); and is less likely to be able to process difficult emotions, maintain impulse control, manage creative problem-solving, or consciously calm down when experiencing duress. That’s not how the brain is supposed to be wired, but it’s what has happened to whole generations of humans, and we have all suffered for it. Our prisons, hospitals, mental health centers, shelters, and “safe-places” are brimming with people who cannot manage their emotions. Current research is linking the onset of major neuro-psychological conditions like Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder with epigenetic factors including the stress-levels and access to emotional processing support one has in early childhood.

Mom-holding-her-baby-to-help-it-stop-cryingThe bottom line is that true self-soothing is a complex and learned habit of emotional processing guided by specific neural wiring achieved through the experience of being soothed. One of the many reasons for humans’ long childhood is to give us lots of opportunities to experience being supported while we cry and then being assisted in calming down. If we don’t get help in infancy and early childhood, then we never have a chance of developing that neural real estate as fully. If we have to do it on our own, as adults, it can take years and years of arduous therapy and/or conscientious self-work to reprogram our synapses for better emotional processing. And the current thinking is that (as with, for example, foreign languages) if we miss out in early development, it’s not only harder to learn later in life, we also never get the chance to master those skills as well as we would have if given proper exposure in early development (the optimal neural window for developing the proclivity for those faculties…).

Intentional, conscious self-soothing is not childs’ play. If we want our kids to develop healthy habits, and strong synapses, for it in the eventual, then we have to be serious about assisting them. It’s our job to “teach” them how to self-soothe: to make room for their emotional processing, to allow them to cry safely in our arms, and then (through our continued empathy and touch) to trigger their return to calm, and higher brain functioning. Only by doing so — over and over again, time after time, throughout early childhood — can we train their brains to do it, and do it well, for themselves. And only after years of this process, can we expect them to truly self-soothe. Anyone who tells you differently, is trying to sell you something.

So, I mentioned most of them above, but here’s the quick list of ways to wire your child’s maturing brain for eventual self-soothing prowess (remembering, of course, that these are generally for use after you’ve attempted to address any needs s/he might have):

In infancy (and with minimal upsets) —
• Warmth: it can be as simple as helping him 63981_823189107704356_1005985079256205307_ncozy up, and often the best spot is under a blanket, naked on your bare chest; it might seem perfunctory, but try it, and you’ll see magic (especially if you also use chest-to-chest time in between upsets…).
• Rocking/Movement: you know what this looks like; and if you’re like me, then you spontaneously start doing it even just looking at babies…
Suckling: see if you can help baby find her fist to chew on; if the emotion is a little more intense, and you are ok with them, try a binky (I only encourage the use of pacifiers for upsetting moments, not a general chew-toy); or offer to breast- or bottle-feed (and yes, I am suggesting nursing for comfort — from an infant’s perspective, that’s all it ever is…).

And continuing throughout development (and/or during more serious upset) 
• Touch: gentle caresses, hugs, even just a finger on his toe helps make way for him to discharge the painful feelings and begin to change his brain chemistry, releasing Oxytocin and breaking the Cortisol grip; and remember chest-to-chest time just for fun, since it helps wire his brain for better Oxytocin release and reception.
 Taking Time: slow way down when upsetting emotion overwhelms her, make room for her feelings; and when you know she’s having a day when she needs to release, provide time for it instead of trying to coax (or threaten…) her out of it; allow for emotional processing because once it’s out and the brain chemistry shifts, then everything is easier — the birds come tweeting out, the sun warms the shimmering hills over which the rainbow arches, and all is gloriously well in the world after every major storm…
• Talking it Out: another thing that helps, especially as children age, is “using our words” — I usually hate when I hear parents robotically whine that at their kids, but — there’s good brain science that says talking about our feelings helps us process them in that “top-down” manner that once wired-in makes it easier for the brain to have tough feelings and still not lose control and go “all ape-sh!t” as they say, so let your kids talk about the feelings involved; and you, too, can use words to help you process your own feelings more easily when you’re triggered — just try naming the feelings (without blaming them on anyone…).
Empathy: the number one way to help, especially but not only verbal kids, is to actively empathize, and here I don’t just mean to try on the perspective (although that is a necessary first step), but to (also) actually express your genuine understanding of your kid’s predicament; get down on his level and look him in the eye and let him know that you get it — when you really successfully communicate that to him, he’ll transform in front of you (he may crumble into you and weep, and then/or his pain may melt away, and then/or he will bounce out of the upset emotion into a happier state than was previously available to him).

And for you visual types who maybe haven’t see it before, here’s a lovely graphic that Natalie and I created (and which you can get here) to help illustrate all of the above:brain-small

 So now you know, if you didn’t or only suspected before, and you can tell those “experts” when they encourage you to let your infant self-soothe herself to sleep, or try to get you to stop reacting to his emotions so that he’ll learn to self-soothe — “Well, actually ‘self-soothing’ is a very complex neural process that takes years of support and guidance to properly develop. And that’s exactly what I’m doing by responding quickly and calmly to my child’s cries, and helping with my child’s emotional processing, and physically triggering the neural processes my child’s brain has to learn to do so that it can begin to do it on it’s own. Thanks though!” Feel free to print that out to have on hand and read aloud if need be. 😉

Here’s more supporting links for you:
• A parent’s video guide to skin-to-skin contact with their infants
• Great article on recent research into effects of mother’s touch on infants
• Another great article (with scientific notation!) on various aspects of emotion regulation
• One of my favorite blogger’s posts called, “What you Need to Know about Crying-it-Out”
• A great basic description of brain areas involved in emotion.
• A scholarly chapter from Stanford on conceptual foundations in emotion regulation (nice overview of some contemporary science in this arena).
• Another, even better scholarly article from Emotion and Motivation Vol. 27, No. 2 on emotion regulation (with loads of citations as well)
• An article from Genevieve Simperingham on some beneficial effects of stress-release crying as well as a little of her own experience with Aware Parenting, made popular by Aletha Solter, Ph.D.
• An article from Solter herself on “assisted crying”; also my historical source on Dr. Holt… (also with citations)

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Be well.

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Happy Gratitude, Y’all!

Wow what a week!! It feels like so much happened that we had two weeks in one! In no particular order — here’s the view from here:

1. As I mentioned last week, Autumn is going out with a flurry, transforming our local landscape into the seasonally appropriate “Winter Wonderland”. The river that runs through town, our daily retreat from the heat of Summer, all but stopped one day, frozen in its tracks. Of course, it really just appeared that way from the mounding sheets of snowy icebergs that collected, and like tectonic plates made a vast, rough continent of solid ice crusted over the river mantle. By Thanksgiving, the temperature had climbed enough to burn holes in the frozen surface, and the river reclaimed the rest. It was even green and sunny on Thanksgiving Day, now it’s white from ground to sky again…11.30.14d 2. Which is to say that it’s still freezing out there. And that is why these two, virtual strangers throughout the Summer, have been parked here for the last couple weeks, and are still in roughly the same spots now… Nimbus is more diplomatic about it than Frau.11.30.14c 3. Echo’s been working on some portraits.11.30.14a Here’s Mom up close.11.30.14l 4. Speaking of “up close”, here’s Natalie’s finger up close, with some little teeny Fairy Food donuts on it.11.30.14e She’s been in hyperdrive production mode for the last month. And this week has only been more of the same…11.30.14m She’s adding meals this year (below) on gorgeous fae-sized china like the one featured above.11.30.14g Mmmm Fettuccine Alfredo with garlic crostino…11.30.14v The meal menu is diverse to say the least… Though it reads a little like a Monty Python routine: “Chicken, peas, and cornbread”, “Chicken, peas, and egg”, “Chicken, egg, and bacon”, “Chicken and salad”… “Spam, spam, spam, spam…”11.30.14i Here’s the sweatshop, where Natalie’s tiny-handed minions make Fairy Food earrings… Not really! 😉 This is actually the result of Xi and Echo’s begging Natalie to let them help her. Echo is assembling the best pairs, and Xi is turning them into ear-worthy accoutrements.11.30.14f And here’s Natalie laboring away at another new Fairy Food incarnation — 11.30.14b Fairy Food Paintings!11.30.14r One of the current favorite Üuuuuuu’s11.30.14s And one of the current favorite Aaaaaaaah’s.11.30.14t 5. Echo and Xi with Lily and Hannah. The ladies were all out for a stroll together on this day — hot cocoas at the ready.11.30.14hLater, the foursome worked together on a fashion photo spread featuring some of Lily and Hannah’s favorite outfits.
11.30.14j 6. Thanksgiving this year was a decidedly “scaled-down” affair, but lovely nevertheless. Echo, Natalie, and I hid out at home most of the day and only made a handful of our favorite dishes. 11.30.14o We went for a stroll in the early afternoon — Echo was already in her fancy attire for dinner, I was in my Montana Mountain Man best. We got home and were feasting by 4:30.11.30.14n 7. After the Thanking, it snowed again, and Echo took the initiative to build her very first solo snow person, George. We all agreed that George had a winning smile.11.30.14k 8. Echo styled Mom’s hair and then wanted to take some photos — featuring only the hair.11.30.14p9. She then turned the camera on the current lego scene, below, which covers a significant portion of the living room floor. This castle wreckage was raised and razed innumerable times over the last couple weeks. Echo built a room for Nim the cat, a full-on defensive fortress, a family of robots, and a faery spa, among other things.11.30.14q 10. Here are some of Bella’s current art projects. On herself…11.30.14wincluding stripes, geometry, organic shapes, and (below) the names of some of her most profound influences.
11.30.14x And on the computer… (I can’t get over how much I love the Llamacorn, and “You can do the thing” — so good on so many levels!)11.30.14y11. We got out the Yule tree yesterday: cut from the basement forest, unfolded and set-up on the traditional spool table, and adorned with lights and just a smattering of ornaments (we saved more than half of the ornaments to do after Xi gets back this week). So our seasonal celebrations are officially kicked-off and well under way!11.30.14u

12. Last but by no means least — Natalie’s first Annapurna article is now (like our Yule tree) up and ready! So head on over and enjoy that at your earliest opportunity!
http://www.annapurnaliving.com/blog/biography-in-a-bowl-by-natalie-christensen

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings, and that you’re enjoying all your own seasonal delights, too!

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Be well!

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