Saturday, July 1, 2017

Reflections On My Birthday

Sixty-eight is a pretty uneventful birthday. I'm on my way to seventy, but just hanging out in my late sixties. My husband, who knows me so well, gave me a card with a picture of this beautiful sheep on it that said, "There's you, and then there's everybody else." He also gave me this beautiful (purple) Pandora butterfly bead. This is the first year I have accepted bling into my life (because I never thought of myself as a bling kinda gal), and I LOVE butterflies. I AM a butterfly inside. I love my husband, and am so blessed to have him in my life.
Us on Lake Murray, SC

Last weekend I took an art retreat that allowed me to see how far I've come in my quest to "find myself". My mother always asked me, "Kathleen, when are you going to find yourself?" "Soon, Ma," was always my reply. She knew herself so well and, as far as I knew, fully accepted herself just as she was. I never did. I followed all the philosophies that dictated, "Be a good girl", "Be all you can be", "Be the best you can be", or "You'll pass in a crowd". This last quote was my mother's favorite. I grew up in a Catholic family and attended parochial school during my elementary years. I loved God, believed everything the priests and nuns told me, and followed all the rules. I learned to sing the Mass in Latin, and took Communion every Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation and on my birthday. I never expressed opinions and did as everyone expected. I began to question this lifestyle at age seventeen, and started my quest the following year in earnest.

My 35th Birthay
I was always hung up because as I got older, I resembled my mother like I was her "Mini-Me". I strongly resembled all the Manning women: Ma, Aunt Jean and Gummy (pictured here). I knew I was born into a family of strong women, but I didn't learn or appreciate the full extent of my mother's strength until after she was gone. "Now I get it, Ma. I'm sorry." I miss my mother so much today. I am very surprised in fact that this post is about her. She was sick with breast cancer when she was my age. I am very healthy, and am so grateful for it.

So, what have I learned during this long quest of self-discovery? I learned what I always knew, but could not accept and lost the strength and courage to live: 1) that I am loved, 2) that I love with all my heart, 3) that my heart bleeds, 4) that I live in that bleeding heart love with compassion for everyone and every thing (butterflies included), and 4) that I am grounded in the School of Unconditional Love and Foregiveness as Jesus taught. I love my Self, and accept my Self as is. I am blessed, and I am very, very grateful for all my blessings. I don't take even one of them for granted. I try to show appreciation whenever the opportunity arises. My word is my bond, and I hold Honor in my heart. I trust and can be trusted, but I am a realist.

I understand that not everyone has worked through their own fear. I have learned to create boundaries to protect my heart and my body when reality dictates the necessity. I don't look for, ask for, or knowingly put my Self in danger or seemingly dangerous situations. If somehow I stumble there, I trust God will protect me. I believe that. I will continue to have adventures and take risks because I know in those I keep growing. I believe I am stronger than my body, and have more power than physical reality dictates. I believe I am an Energy Being; a Spirit who lives forever, and that I will see all my loved ones again some day. I sometimes just miss their earthly faces. I am Light, Love and Joy personified, and I will no longer knowingly let fear ground my Spirit.

Once these words connoted the label, "Hippie". I was that too, albeit a late bloomer. I still am; I just don't flaunt it much anymore. I pick and choose when to be whoever and whatever I feel like expressing. I am exploring my different talents and learning to let my creative juices flow once more. Thank goodness I now have a grandson to help my inner child continue to thrive and play. I have "Peter Pan Syndrome": part of me will NEVER grow up.

My handsome Son and his beautiful Wife.
I feel very happy today. I am proud of myself for choosing happiness as a lifestyle. I am also proud to have chosen good health as one too. I have lost twenty-three pounds so far and counting. I think I'll go shopping today and buy something that fits well. Thank you for all the birthday wishes that have begun to come in and for being in my life. I am grateful for all my wonderful and quirky family, friends and other blessings. Lastly, I want to thank my parents for giving birth to Me. "You did a great job, Ma and Dad. I know life was hard, but know that I never "let 'em shut it off or take it away". I love and miss you dearly. Peace.
My Sibs and Cousins at Echo Bridge

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nurturing Retreat Last Day

It is indeed summer in the south coast. Yesterday, I drove through a road race finish line in my neighborhood I saw no signs for and had no idea was happening. Today, I drove by a charity bike race and was annoyed with bicyclists hogging the road riding side by side. But, I breathed and waited until they noticed me behind them, moved over, and I passed them when it was safe on the narrow country roads. We were all lit up and relaxed from our exploits of the past few days.

Last night, was a true celebration with bottles of wine and lots of good food and female comradery. We talked, shared and laughed the night away until Barbara said, "Ding, dong." It was time for the two of us non-residents to go home and prepare for today. This morning, I took advantage of the delicious french toast on the table before me with my coffee. I have not eaten french toast in a very long time. It was glorious with syrup and fresh blueberries.

We had two final projects this morning. The first was another clay play date. Barbara taught us how to make clay stick figures and fill them out. We decided on poses, and mine was going to be one demonstrating naked dancing. Of course. I have always loved being naked outside, and this last clay woman would dance in all her naked glory. Barbara showed us the fun of running clay through a garlic press to make hair, and we all went wild with hair everywhere. My clay woman danced with a big smile on her face as was my face the entire weekend.

We enjoyed lunch with all our clay figures surrounding a vase of fresh flowers while we shared our joy from the weekend. Lastly, Barbara had us paint a stick figure then fill it out. My final creation surprised and amused me. She began as a dancing woman. She was. She was just a Wild Woman from the children's book, Where The Wild Things Are. I gave her red claws, red armpit hair, flaming red flowing hair on her head, red lipstick and a hairy body. She is adorable, and is an alter ego of mine. I am a Wild Woman....still. I just have to keep remembering that. But, I am one that spreads Light, Love and Joy wherever I go or dance or swim or walk. My little light will shine on brightly from now on.

Since this weekend was about self discovery, I discovered that I have come a long way over the many years I have been on the path to finding myself. I did not feel one ounce of pain during the entire weekend. When I am tapping the well within, I usually push some painful button, but found none this time. It is a first for me. I am finally comfortable in my own skin, love myself and accept who I am completely for the first time. I feel strong and confident again. I embrace my child within again. I relish expressing myself in many new ways and look forward to exploring them all going forward.

Thank you to all the women I met this weekend. They are all new friends. Thanks to Barbara for all her work to make us feel cared for, supported and pushed just a little to express that voice inside that must speak out loud. I hope to do more art journaling with her in the fall. I am smiling right now.

Nurturing Retreat Day 3

After coffee this morning, Barbara told us the humidity kept our masks sticky. She dried them on a warm stove while we did our next painting project. We took out our journals and she demonstrated making a thick line. Then she made branches off that line with more branches and lines off those. She encouraged us to try both our brushes, and I relished in the fine lines my other brush could create. I made this huge, expanding tree branch with lots and lots of branches of blue and greens. Then I added golden pollen pods all over.

She then told us to paint our clay vessels into this picture. Our painted vessel didn't have to be an exact replica of the clay version, and indeed mine changed. I used purple, flesh and gold colors. The flat bowl had more of a pedastal to fit onto a tree branch and golden rays rose out of it upward. I thought it was done. Barbara encouraged me to dig deeper by focusing on one blank corner. I stemmed my frustration at thinking I was done, and did as she suggested. I found a red flower of heart shapes growing on a branch with a lime-green background. Time was up and I was grateful to her for pushing me just a little. She said that she would do this for us throughout.

To break up each day, we took walks outdoors. The first day after lunch, I explored a dirt path through the woods to the Westport River we could only see from on high the porch. It was a lovely path with arch supports erected here and there to keep the jungle away from the path and high overhead. Below on the river was a lone row boat at the end of the pier, and the views up and down the river were magnificent. I sat in the sun on a rock and just breathed. My trek back up hill got my heart pumping really well. Today, Barbara took us to Westport Town Beach that could only be accessed by permit if you lived on the Point. She led us on a lovely, long walk on a surprisingly beautiful sandy beach. I was surprised because our beach is rocky. I didn't expect such an expanse of sand here, and was well pleased. I love a sandy beach. We collected trinkets to adorn our masks like shells and feathers. It was very refreshing, and our bare feet in the sand and the ocean felt magnificent.

Back in the dining room, we fetched our masks. I had no idea what to do next. I watched as other dove into colors and began painting their faces that were not their faces with abandon. I decided my face would be gold. I made sure I had a nice even golden coating over all, and needed to use a hair dryer on some areas I thought needed extra paint. What was I supposed to do next? It was hard figuring out how to adorn my face that was not my face. These masks and our paintings were meant to give a voice to that voice inside us that is never allowed to speak. What will they say? I just let it flow.

I began with royal blue eyeliner, Egyptian style, but extended it out to the side as if the blue were glasses instead. Then I put black wavy lines over the upper and lower eyes. I painted half the eyes with silver and then had to decide if I wanted pupils. I tried one, and it was heart shaped. I liked it and added one to the other even though the eyes now looked kind of creepy. Then I added lashes up and down. I gave her lipstick and a smile, and glued sea shells on her face. Then I glued one of those 1970's seashell necklaces around her face creating hair adornments and earrings plus a hanger in back. Wiring on the sides helped hold this in place. I found a "Love" heart bead with a scrimshaw rose on it too and that became her "third eye". From that I painted lines to create a place for colored, shiny beads and feathers to create a headdress. I put a bead over the miniature sand dollar too. When she was finished, she was a little hard to look at. We put them on the mantle in the living room.

After dinner, Barbara had us all sit in the living room and look at our masks to see if they would speak to us. In turn, we shared what they said. Mine told me that the growths on my face that are benign and can be ugly are not. I accept them and embrace them because I inherited them from my mother, and they make my face unique. Barbara asked me to describe my mask in three words. I said Light, Joy and Love. These are what my mask represents for me. I am those things, and all I have to do is wear them with courage and ground in them. I felt those words in my core, and they were good.

Nurturing Retreat Day 2

I woke early and was at Snowden House by 8:45am. Our first class started at 9:00am. Everyone was finishing breakfast and I fixed myself a cup of coffee on the way to the dining room. After saying, "Good Morning!", and chatting a bit, I noticed we were short one participant. "Where's D?" I asked. "She left", Barbara said, "I'm not judging her." Apparently, the younger woman from Manhattan must have decided that either this retreat was not for her, or the house was not what she expected. It was a very rustic, old farm/beach house. Maybe she wanted more modern. She did have the only private bath, but it had a claw-foot tub and no shower. Who knows? We let it go. Now we had two bathrooms to use. The only problem was every time we walked through that bedroom to the downstairs bathroom, we thought of her hasty retreat as we looked at the unmade bed left abandoned. We let it alone.

Our first class was to play with clay. Barbara divided up the huge grey chunk of clay into palm-size pieces and asked us to close our eyes. We imagined what we wanted and were asked to create it without looking. This was our first lesson in trust. We all came up with something different. My husband told my daughter-in-law I was going back to preschool over the weekend. It felt just like that to all of us. We were learning to play like children again with open creativity and no judgement or criticism.It was really fun! What I discovered, and I wasn't the only one, was that what I imagined what exactly what I created: Little Princess Katherine on her ornate throne in the forest of birch, oak and maple trees surrounded by rabbits and a baby dragon. I wrote down the beginning of a children's book idea on the index card Barbara gave us to remember what we were thinking about when we created our pieces.

When we arrived the day before, Barbara gave us all a lovely bag containing our paint set, journal book, a map of Westport and a bottle of water. After our clay play, we took out our journals and Barbara told us to paint anything we wanted on the first page with any color we wished. She demonstrated for us by drawing a line, squiggles and just doodling. That's what we basically did. We doodled in paint and I saw how the first brush could make fat lines and fine lines. It was really fun. Next she demonstrated just making a wandering grey line all over the page until we stopped. "Look and see if you see anything in the shapes of the line, and feel free to expand your vision," she said. I saw a red-winged blackbird with a gold beak, a flower, a mole, and a Venus Fly trap I couldn't quite make look "right". "If you don't see anything," she added, "just play with color." So I did. Her instructions were specific, but loose. She wanted us to remain light and free to explore. It was important not to get caught up in expectations, but to just let whatever wanted to come out of us on the page come out. I felt so free. So did everyone else.

Barbara did all the cooking, hosting and serving. Her partner, Steve, helped by washing all the dishes and fetching what Barbara needed, plus shuttle service to the airport. They made a great, functional and very organized pair. After a lovely lunch, Barbara gave us another chunk of clay. This time we could see what we were creating. She once again gave us instruction but encouraged us to let the clay talk to us instead of forcing a creation. She told us to make a ball, then press our thumb into the center. We pressed against the sides with our thumbs until the hole got bigger and we were making a vessel. My vessel ended up being a nice medicine bowl. We were told we were not going to keep any of the clay creations because they would have to be fired and there were no facilities for doing that. Photographs of our creations had to suffice. We left all our creations displayed on the piano top and on a table in the living room for the entire weekend.

The pies de resistance of the night was creating our mask crysallis. Barbara's theme for the weekend was about planting: seeding, planting and harvesting (I'm sure she used different words, I don't have my syllabus with me right now. Please forgive me, Barbara.) Again, this was an exercise in trust. We could not see or speak, those of us who chose to have our plaster casts over our entire face, except the nostrils in order to breathe.

We covered our faces in Vaseline first after putting on headbands and bobby pins to hold our hair back as needed. Then we covered ourselves, the floor and furniture with plastic sheets.One by one, and sometimes in teams, we started across the forehead and worked our way down each face gently pressing on small precut sheets of plaster covered gauze that we dipped in bowls of water to activate the plaster. We squeezed each pieces of water before placing it on the face. We put at least three coats of plaster sheets over the entire face to make the mask sturdy enough to host paint and adornments. The evening went on and we were all fascinated by this process. We created a nice mess, but as Barbara finished the last woman, she gave me and Dian permission to leave as we were the only two not staying in the house. I was grateful because I was very tired at that point. We let our masks dry and harden over night.

Nurturing Retreat Day 1

I attended a retreat this past weekend in Westport, MA called Nurturing Your Creative Spirit.  The leader, Barbara Barry, created Art for Self-Discovery for Women. I was the only local woman who attended, so I chose to sleep in my own bed, eat breakfast at home and show up at the rustic old beach house to enjoy coffee with the other five women from NY and NJ. I stayed for all other meals and nighttime activities though.

The retreat began Thursday afternoon, and I was the second one to arrive. Until 6pm, as women slowly entered the house with tales of traffic woes that delayed their trip, we all got to know one another. I heard on the local news that a jumper off the Braga Bridge caused a traffic jam on Route 195E.

Once we were all there, we enjoyed appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages.  Alcohol would be served during our final celebration on Saturday night. After a lovely dinner, we cleared the old wooden dining room table, removed the leaves and covered it with plastic. Barbara then brought out a perfectly -fitting round cloth covering with a large black circle near the edge and a smaller one in the center.

We all stood around the circle while she divided it into seven sections with masking tape. We all then chose a color of tempura paint and a brush with which we began our group painting with a symbol of our choice. I chose  a leaf. We continued on like this as we moved around the circle and added more symbols, lines or whatever we wanted to each section in turn. We also swapped colors or chose new colors as desired when instructed. Eventually we began adding lines or dots to other's images until the wheel looked full. Barbara then peeled off the tape and we joined the sections with lines or dots as images moved each of us to paint. Lastly, we left our signature line in the center to complete the paunting. I chose a yellow dash-dot pattern. Voila! The painting was complete and we walked around it amazed at how interesting and lovely it was. We also shared how fun it was to paint as a group.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter Memory

I have always loved Easter and springtime. The clean air outside is perfumed by daffodils and tulips, and the birds seem to sing just a little louder.

My mother took all ten children shopping each year to buy new clothes. My parents were hard-working people. My father's full-time job was as a mechanic at Boston Edison Company. He always believed he should have everything he desired for his family as long as he made sure "they didn't shut it off or take it away." To make ends meet, he sometimes worked a second or third job. My mother, in addition to making our clothes and cooking all our meals, worked full-time at night for "Ma Bell" as a telephone operator.

Shopping for new clothes once each year was a rare treat, and we always got very excited. We went to the local department store and had great fun choosing pretty dresses; straw hats adorned with flowers and a ribbon, a pretty coordinated coat, Patten-leather shoes, white ankle socks trimmed with lace, and all new underwear. My brothers got new jackets, pants, shirts, ties, shiny shoes, a nice fedora-style hat and, again, all new underwear.

Dressing for Mass on Easter morning after finding our filled Easter baskets that the Easter Bunny hid for us was so exciting! Parading into church all in a row with my very religious mother in the lead and my father pulling up the rear for his once-a-year token church visit was priceless. Our family filled an entire pew and we all looked great!

As neighbors and friends of our family watched us make our entrance, I know my parents felt the pride they deserved for working so hard to provide us with everything. We were poor, but we felt rich. Happy Easter to you and your family from me and mine. God bless us all.