Conversation #5: Shine a Light on Danelle

“How far that little candle throws his beams!  So shines a good deed in a weary world.”-  William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Have you ever met someone who, while you are standing there talking to them, becomes a source of light?  It’s kinda bizarre when it happens.  But that is precisely the experience of being around my friend Danelle.  It’s time for me to shine the proverbial light on her and let you get to know her too.

Danelle is a gift which yoga has given me.  She is an instructor at my studio, but practiced next to me long before I knew she taught as well.  I always saw her in class, smiling, but it took me an introverted long time to actually talk to her.  I remember thinking she was just way too positive and enlightened a  force to be down with a sailor-mouth like myself.  But that is the thing about her.  You are comfortable the minute you talk to her.  She is easy in an elegant, breath of fresh air, open and sing-song kind of way.  When you are in class, sweating your ass off, struggling, wishing for the end, that’s when Danelle steps in.  With her words and with her energetic presence, you are somehow reassured.  You know you can make it.  It’s a remarkable quality.

As well as being a yoga instructor, Danelle also runs a massage practice out of her cozy home.  Before I received a massage from her, I worried about telling her some things I didn’t like during a massage.  Like talking too much.  Or being cold.  Or pain.  But of course, she is incredibly honest and makes you feel so comfortable that things you might worry about are not an issue.  Not because it didn’t hurt a couple times.  It did.  But because her unspoken message to you is that you are her first concern and you will be given the TLC and difficult work that you are not able or willing to give yourself.  She knows things.  I am not sure how, but she does.  If she wasn’t such a goddamn charming combination of vulnerable and commanding, it would be annoying.

As someone who can quite easily go to self doubt and the “dark side,” I find Danelle’s dogged insistence on the positive to be refreshing.  You know those annoyingly upbeat people who you want to shake?  She is not one of them.  Danelle has had pain and heartache, but has a matched dose of realism.  She calls herself “woo-woo” and others have called her “dreamy” because of her upbeat and spiritual sensibility, but she is decidedly pragmatic.  She can be tearful and willing to bare her soul, but she also is able to put the hammer down when it comes to what she believes in.  For example, when talking about her adorable 4 year old son, she says her goal as a parent is that  “he will never, ever, ever (like 20 more evers…) feel that he is not good enough.”    And I feel the resolve in her words.   Spoken by a person who has known how it feels to be abandoned, but also knows she is not going to fucking let that happen to any child of hers.  Ever.

One of my favorite words is Sanskrit is satya or truth.  Danelle embodies truth.  She has an active meditation practice (I am jealous.  I am someone who has always wanted to have one) that relies heavily on mantras.  She is cognizant of how thoughts and vibrations can “create a situation” and is extremely self aware on how to stop this from happening.  During a disagreement with her husband, she might remind herself of the beach or something else she loves to change the energy. At times where she is frustrated or off center, she returns to places of happiness rather than adding fuel to the fire.  This is incredibly difficult to do, but she manages to pull it off.  She says the more you do it, the easier it gets.  And somehow, from within my deepest doubting self, I believe her.

Danelle also gives me a suburban smackdown.  When I ask her how she keeps the suburbs from crushing her soul, she tells me that the suburbs are not robbers of the soul, they are keepers of community.  As her voice cracks, and her big beautiful eyes widen, she tells me that the suburbs are a place of family, unlike the one where she grew up.  It’s about taking a deep breath, going and knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking for eggs.  Or a jumper cable.  It’s knowing that there is someone there to help.  Even if that someone is you.

In the future, Danelle hopes to open her own yoga studio from where she can have her massage practice as well.  She hopes that her globe-trekking pilot husband will be more local more often.  Her son will feel loved and accepted.  She will be making a profit and making a difference.  She is so task-oriented and organized, you know she will make it happen.  She is crystal clear on what she wants and where her skills lie.  She knows that in order to be there for others, your own needs have to be met and then you can be there for others.  (From her years in the airline industry, she knows you have to first put the oxygen mask on yourself).  I can’t wait for you to go to her studio!

You can’t help but be a better person simply by knowing her.

 

Many thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography for the photo.

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Conversation #4: The Tao of Taryn

Ah my dear blog, I missed you.

I’d really like you to meet my friend Taryn.  She is so beautiful in that short-haired, cute earrings, loud, athletic, tireless, full-time -working, gets tears-in-her eyes sentimental, f-bomb dropping, whipsmart, outgoing, wine-drinking kind of way.  In other words, she is an original.  We sat together outside at a local cafe to have our conversation over a glass of wine and under a blanketing blue sky.

Taryn informed me early in our lunch that when she first met me, she thought I was a bitch.  This does not surprise me, I have always been a bit on the shy side which can be misinterpreted.  But it does matter in terms of how I feel about Taryn.  To my eye, she is fearless, a steak knife who slices through the tough stuff with skill and ease.  As I have gotten to know her, I realize there is a softer side to her as well.  But more on that later.  Taryn says what is on her mind, simple as that.  She is true and honest.  She is no bullshit.  She has no room for drama, mean people, and the turning over and over again of a problem.  When she is done, she is done. The more forceful her opinion, the higher the volume and the more articulate the expletive.  This woman is an artist when it comes to cursing, she is the Van Gogh of the four letter word.  You can see why I love her.

One of the main reasons I wanted to talk to Taryn is the fact that she works a full time job and is a devoted mom and wife.  I wanted to know, as with all hard-working moms, how she does it.  For this conversation, we had to reschedule once and have some questions go back and forth by email.  She’s busy.  But first credit to how she does it goes to her husband.  Let me say these things about him:  He cooks (he has been known to whip up a dip to bring to book club), he gardens ( impeccable), he takes his two adorable girls to practices and classes, he grocery shops, he picks out clothes for Taryn (stylish and the right size) and he is very neat.  You can close your mouth now, he really does these things and Taryn gives him props for all the above over and over again.  But it’s still hard.  She would love to “be there” for her two small girls more, she would love to have those two hours after work to unwind instead of running here to there, she would love to be free of guilt and beating herself up,  she would love to have the house picked up better, she wants to be able to say no and not feel regret,  and she she would love to escape the persistent feeling that she isn’t “doing it right.”  I just heard all the working moms say, “Amen.”

Okay, now for Miss Softy.  Behind the exterior is a mushy pillow of a heart.  Few people I know have been bestowed with a heart as big and love as deep as Taryn.  Her girls and her family are everything to her.  When talking about painful past events or  parenting or whatever she feels deeply about, her face softens and her head tilts.  She looks at you with big eyes like those “Love Is” characters from the 70’s.  Getting tearful is not uncommon and not something she is ashamed about.  When you are with her, you are frequently rewarded with hugs, laughter and a twinkly smile.  Sometimes those hugs even hurt.  Girlfriend is fucking strong.

If you took a photo gallery of my friend Taryn, you would find, of course, pictures with her girls and husband.  But then you would find many with lots of friends, smiling faces, wine glasses and silliness.  You would also find a myriad of athletic snapshots including her covered in mud, hurdling obstacles, sleeping in strange vans during multi-day team runs, cheering her husband on during a cycling race or the simple run with her dog.  It’s not rocket science that others keep asking her to captain running teams.  She has an indomitable spirit, unbelievable energy and she is the ultimate in “rallying the troops.”  If I were home on the couch with a gallon of ice cream and a remote, Taryn could get my ass up.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  She says that as she has gotten older and had kids, she has slowed down and is adapting to looking in the mirror and seeing a soccer mom.  However, she adds, soccer moms are also MILF’s.  In Taryn’s photos you would also see some older photos of her and her family.  Serious love of birthdays.  You would see her mom crossing picket lines, taking her to presidential rallies and an exuberant little girl learning to stand tall for her beliefs.

Taryn doesn’t understand why I get down on the ‘burbs sometimes, she thinks its cool here.  Her motto is breathe in the good and breathe out the bad.  We bond over parenting our girls and supporting our cycling-obsessed husbands.  And I continue to learn from her the skills of cultivating fun, getting out there and doing it and unabashed love.

Thanks, Taryn!

Conversation #4: You could learn a thing or two from my friend Barbara

Before I begin writing about my conversation with Barbara, I want to reiterate why I do these conversations, why I interview my friends.  It seems to me that in my home of suburbia,  we are always striving to do something extraordinary or newsworthy.  We subscribe to the bigger, better, faster, more mentality of American culture.  My ultimate goal in writing these interviews is to profile people whom I believe to be stars.   Maybe they are not on the cover of People or Time or anywhere else, but in their own everyday way, they are going about noble, rich, honest and meaningful lives.  Their worth isn’t measured by their bank accounts or their last movie, but they are deserving of the same public recognition.  So there you go.

If you don’t know my friend Barbara, you really should.  I have never met anyone so free of societal expectations or peer pressure than Barbara.  She is absolute in her standards, her choices and the way she lives her life.  Her unapologetic way of living her life makes me appreciate her so much but it’s also what initially intimidated me about her.  I don’t think I really put it together until we had lunch a couple weeks ago, but I have always been somewhat in awe of this gal.  Barbara and I met while my now 4th grader was a preschooler at a local Montessori school.  She was the friend of a friend and I liked her from the start.  She is one of those people that you always think is pretty and then she puts on make-up and she is absolutely gorgeous.  (I don’t know about you but when I put on make-up I get to about pretty.  She goes straight to knock out.)  I remember that she would pick up her daughter at 3 o’clock and she would be carrying her four year old son who was still in his pajamas.  Once I asked her if he was sick. She said, no, he just prefers pajamas.  I love that.

Barbara is a self described introvert.  She enjoys solitude and time to herself.  At parties and school functions, she is the one who might really want to talk to you, but you most likely will have to approach her.  Naturally quiet and “shy,” it takes her a while to warm up to you.  But once she does, she is the warmest and most welcoming person around.  Seriously.  This woman has a fire going and cool music playing when you arrive at her house and you are served either coffee or wine in cups or glasses the size of small bathtubs.  Kick off your shoes, you are about to get comfy!  Barbara describes her childhood warmly as one of three daughters to some very practical sounding parents.  When I asked her about God, Barbara says her Dad used to tell her, “If you want to know yourself, go take a walk outside.”  She admired that her Dad didn’t tell her to find God outside, he told her to find herself, because that was his view of spirituality.  Pretty cool.

Most often complimented as a good listener, Barbara truly gives you the gift of lending an ear.  Don’t expect any advice-giving, though, unless you ask for it.  And when you do, it is brief and powerful.  You may not hear much from Barbara at get togethers, she is more likely to be listening than talking.  But when you do, get ready to take notes.  She may not talk a lot, but what she does say is worth the wait.  Barbara does not like small talk, she is more interested in meaning and substance than the gossipy chatter she sometimes hears.  And she doesn’t much care for the phone either.  She admits to being hesitant about meeting and making new friends because she is already busy enough and won’t be able to make the time for anyone new.  (I mean, isn’t this type of honesty refreshing?! Personally, I am guilty of saying yes to things too readily then having to back out later when I knew from the start I wouldn’t be able to do something.)  Don’t get me wrong, she knows how to have fun and be real and hilarious.  But she will not bullshit you.  Ever.

Right now, photography is Barbara’s passion. She is an excellent Iphone photographer.  Who know there was such a thing, right?  You can see her photos randomly on Facebook and I expect at a gallery near you sometime soon.  Her photos are that good.  It’s great to see her have such passion about it, after devoting so much time to her kids.  She has always been devoted to them, but at this stage with one in middle school and one in fourth grade, she is finding the wiggle room to pursue her own interests.  By the way, did I mention she is a great mom??  Barbara is ridiculously, fiercely and completely in love with her husband.  I mean, these two are gaga for each other!  Without guilt, Barbara says she is looking forward to the time when it is just the two of them.  When asked about the people she admires most, she mentions first a friend of hers who has struggled with illnesses.  A friend who is extroverted, warm, altruistic and sincerely makes you feel special.  Barbara is quick to point out that while she loves the way this friend “moves throught the world with grace,” she is not the same but has her own gifts.  Without missing a beat, she mentions her husband also the one she most admires.  I know, aww.

My friend Barbara is grounded and lives her life with quiet assurance that she is on the right path, and, if she knows you well enough, invites you to do the same.  (She is the one who taught me to hang a garbage bag between the armrests of my minivan.  Genius!)  And in her own soft spoken but nonetheless powerful way, she impresses her ideals upon you and you can’t help but feel the same way:  families teach kids to work together and compromise, apologize when you do something wrong, tell the truth, set good boundaries, be busy with only those things which are important to you and your family, spend your energy wisely, one on one time with friends brings much joy and her mantra, “thoughts become things, choose the good ones.”

Well I hope you learned something.   I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with this great gal, and I am no longer intimidated by her.  But I can’t help but brag about her.

Conversation #3: Extra Special Extrovert

I spent an absolutely delightful afternoon with my friend Michelle at Pine State Biscuits last Monday.  It was sunny outside, a welcome change, so we took advantage by sitting outside in the sun.  Michelle is technically not a suburban mom, she lives in the city limits, but her upbringing was solidly suburban and she fits in well with suburbo-types.  Michelle is a “work friend,” she is an occupational therapist (like me) and we work together at a local clinic.   As a new hire last year, Michelle was the first OT I met and we worked together pretty intensely covering a maternity leave for another OT.  I instantly felt a connection to her, and you would too.  Trust me.  She is one captivating gal.

Michelle has a wide-eyed, curious, outspoken and open-armed view of the world.  She has a huge smile and you feel completely unjudged, listened to and giddy when you are around her.  The best word I can use to describe her is twinkly.  She is just that nice to be around.  Don’t get me wrong though, she has her opinions.  She is resistant to pigeon holing because she is a dichotomy in a few ways.  Michelle worries about underserved kids and families, but is also a cute dresser with a flair for color and finer textiles.  She is patient, calm and easy with the kids we work with, but will raise her voice when it comes to things she finds an outrage.  She is the parent of three Waldorf educated boys, shuns technology and enjoys the creative process.  However, she has high standards for her crafts.  No crap crafts, please.  Michelle believes in healing and the ancient practices of Qigong and yoga.  She is a certified cranio-sacral practitioner (and a few more certifications that are less known to readers) but the glory of a walk outside is also a direct route to curing what ails you.  She sits in the front row at her church so her boys are well behaved while in attendance.  Despite the stereotypes of churchgoers, Michelle is liberal and open minded and she has no tolerance for things which block the path to happiness, yours or her own.

“Most people would probably say I’m a good mom,” is what Michelle says when asked what is the most frequent compliment she receives.  That’s an understatement.  I personally feel empowered by Michelle’s parenting style which steadfastly upholds her ideals.  Those ideals would be togetherness, fun, firmness, free thinking and good old fashioned values.  She has an uncanny ability to not get sucked into peer pressure.  Talking about a friend who starts worrying about summer camps in January, Michelle says she shuts it down.  Her first priority is family time, not scheduling, worrying, list making and competing.  She says she can’t be bothered by that stuff, it’s a drain on her and all the things she would like to do with her family.  Michelle travels back to childhood home in New York at least a few times a year.  This is incredible to me, a native East Coaster.  Three kids and mom and dad making the cross country trek so frequently?   But when Michelle describes her family, I see why it’s so important to her.  While her siblings are all very different, their mom was the guiding force- always telling them that they could do anything and giving them powerful messages of self ability every step of the way.  Family is the center, and that is that.

Friendships are also a high priority for Michelle.  She gravitates toward others who feel the same way about family and together time.  Michelle is a self professed extrovert.  When I was younger, I probably could not have been friends with Michelle.  Her ability to completely pay attention to me, eyes never failing to connect, ideas always supported and firmly entrenched in an underlying confidence: this would have been unnerving to me.  It would have scared me and made me uncomfortable and nervous.  But now I welcome her strength because I think it strengthens me.  It motivates me to be a better parent, friend and less wishy-washy.  She understands that community begins with family and extends to friendships and neighbors and her loyalty is a result of that.  She craves relationships with other like minded people, like school moms or neighbors.  She feels drawn to others by something not quite known, but trusts her ability to recognize a friend.  She is practical too, instinctively knowing it’s harder to be friends with people whose kids are different ages.  Michelle and I are drawn together by the similarities in our husbands and how they think alike, in a very pragmatic way.  We also bond over our the fact that we are most definitely not techno-savvy. When it comes to gossip (topic of an upcoming post), Michelle enjoys a bit of it now and then but knows where to draw the line.  She stops if it comes down to saying something that you wouldn’t say directly to the person.  And she would.  Believe me.

In 10 years, when two of the three boys will be out of the house, she sees herself as being the same in many ways.  But she would definitely like to travel more with her husband, something she loves but has largely let go of in order to raise her family.  Michelle will no doubt be the same anchor for her children that her own family in New York continues to be for her.  She will be the same protective, loving and compassionate person she is, but with more time to sew and create.  She will be the same person with the same “can do” attitude.  I love that the next work day after I interviewed her, she came in and said, “I keep thinking of things I should have said when you asked me things!”  She is compelled to get it right.  Just by virtue of knowing her, so are you.  In 10 years, I am sure that Michelle will be sending home made care packages to her sons, continuing to frequently visit family members, traveling, voicing her opinion (loudly), struggling with technology, working a pop of color in her outfits, giggling, and in general making the world a better place.  I only hope I am still her friend to see it all.

Thanks Michelle!  Biscuits and tea are awesome.

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Conversation #1: The Divine Miss M.

Do you know my friend M?

If you don’t, you really should meet her.  She’s pretty awesome.  I asked M. to be my first conversation.  She hesitantly agreed.  I wonder what she thought I was going to ask her.  We sat down in her high ceilinged, beautiful decorated but blessedly messy kitchen.  M. is one of those people who wakes up looking gorgeous and as she saunters and offers me a compliment!  She’s the best!  On the morning of our meeting, the dogs were playing with the cat, both her young sons were home from school and her husband was showing a young guy from the neighborhood around to help with yardwork.  In a word, chaos.  But M. was unfazed.  She gave me her full attention.  I told you she was awesome.

I first met M. in my work as an occupational therapist and she as a speech pathologist. I was coming back from maternity leave and they had hired her while I was away.  My first impressions of M. were that she was beautiful in an exotic way (her dad was caucasian and her mom was Korean).  She had an elegant way about her.  When I learned that she was a surgeon’s wife, I automatically assumed she had it made.  I also remember that on my first day back, she was telling a story about a kid she was treating and she was crying.  It was heartfelt and vulnerable.  Then I convinced myself she didn’t like me very much.  About a month later, she asked me to go to coffee and yoga with her.   Hmm.  I was wrong.

Brief confession:  Some of my first impressions are downright embarassing.

M. grew up in Michigan with her mom, who spoke very little English and worked as a housecleaner in the local hospital.  She had come back with M.’s dad after the war.  (I am going to remember M.’s mom next time I am complaining about not being able to find a parking space or something silly like that.)  The obstacles she must have encountered are overwhelming:  saying a permanent goodbye to her family, lack of language and communcation ability, lack of formal education, complete unfamiliarity with American customs and parenting and what M. describes as persistent anxiety.

Comfort is a theme with M.  She has a hard time reconciling the comfort her sons experience versus what she encountered as a child.  Perhaps influenced by growing up as an only child, M. is most comfortable being alone or with only her “handful” of people with whom she is completely herself.  She is wary around those who flaunt their wealth, as this is foreign to her.  She was most concerned with her father’s comfort as he was dying of cancer a couple years ago.  M. devoted herself to her dad during the last year of his life.  She still tears up when speaking about him.  Before he moved in with her, before the boys said their goodbyes to “Poppa”, before the confusion, incontinence, suffering and despair, he was her father.  M.’s moral compass is definitive and has no soft edges.  I admire that about her.  She is tough.  I would not want to get in the ring with M.   She would take me down.

As tough as she is, though, she is still a softie at heart.  I tell her she is one of the most vulnerable people I know.  She is not afraid to feel her emotions.  This is apparent when discussing her son P.  P. is 8 years old and full of natural curiosity.  He has spent most of his young life struggling with emotional and sensory processing.  P. is the greatest kid.  You should sit down with him and talk about stars and crystals.  You will learn something, I guarantee it.  She is a fierce presence with both her sons, but you feel it strongly with P.  She loves and protects like a lioness.

My first impressions of M. were about her beauty and my preconceived notion that she had it made because she was married to a surgeon.  When I tell her this, she throws her head back and laughs.  Our culture rains ideals of beauty and money as worthy goals.  I can’t say whether or not they are, but M. shows us that even if you have those,  you are not guaranteed a life free of pain and loss.  She is the living embodiment of generosity of spirit.  I wondered why I had told myself she didn’t like me.  Maybe I worried that someone like M. wouldn’t be interested in a friend like me, so faulty and imperfect.  But M. reminds me that perfection is a mirage, her living as a real person in emotional honesty is the ultimate goal.

Lastly, with each conversation, I will say what that person’s t-shirt would say:

“I am much more than a pretty face.”

“I feel things deeply and purely and that is more than okay.”

“I may seem stand-offish, but my tendency at first is to observe.”

“There are hard things in life.  Whatever happens, I will be okay.”

“If we become friends, I will be incredibly loyal and supportive to you.”

“There is nothing that a glass of wine and some girl time can’t cure.”

Thanks to M. and her boys and dogs and cat.