Jolly rumble

This is a favorite song for the season. May Day is upon us and while others may think about labor unions, for me it is a time to think on summer. Long lazy days on the deck with a cool drink, the company of good friends, my sweetheart beside me. Love the version of the song I posted below too.

…Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is coming in
And winter’s gone away…

thQFOLLFQY

Tomorrow is the first of May and we will be, indeed, awake long before the day to welcome in the summer. We will turn off the lights and the electronics and light the house with candles.

Last year at this time, the cherry blossoms in the back yard were faintly visible as the sky was backlit with the city lights below the cloud cover. Raven and I sat and held hands as we talked about our days. Conversation wandered gently from observation of the sky to expressing our love and gratitude for each other, enjoying the light of the candles, and being on the cusp of summer. Good times.

I am looking forward to celebrating again this year, though I think french toast with maple syrup and nutmeg eggs would be a good starter. Later on tomorrow  we will picnic in the park and watch some children weave a May pole with brightly colored ribbons. May Day for us is a day to be frivolous, mischievous and to share silliness with friends. It is part of the seasonal wheel that is the cusp of spring/summer.

(Quote above is from the song Hal An Tow.)

Made with love

Making things with my hands is a simple kind of magic, the kind of magic that is all about love. I especially like crocheting as it moves along so quickly, and is something you can do while visiting with friends and family; it is something I’ve been doing since I was about eight years old.

TinyAfghans3

Tiny blankets for little people – Photo by Ria

We would gather on a weekend around a pot of tea. The adults would sometimes drink beer in the late afternoon. Someone would bustle around in the kitchen, making snacks like scones, cookies or even toast fingers with butter and jam to go along with the tea. Just two families with the parents, the kids (three from each family), grandparents, and often an uncle or aunt extra who dropped by for a visit.

The hand work would come out when we were settled. Almost everyone worked on something. One uncle would focus on some leather repair, sharpening knives from the kitchen with a whetstone and oil, or mending socks. Someone would be knitting. Nan had her tatting, and a few of us learned to crochet, embroider, and make projects with beads. My mother was almost always working on a dressmaking project, taking up a hem or measuring for a new garment; my cousin Gail would be practicing dance with swords, with her father playing music to accompany her. Weekends were for visiting and projects; to this day, I feel most productive when I am making things.

I still get the most pleasure from planning and making things for people I know. There’s something a bit old-fashioned about a hand-made object, especially one that is not easily found in a store anywhere. One of a kind things feel special, especially as they represent time, creativity and attention to all the tiny details.

This last weekend, I made little afghans for tiny people. I guess you could call them crocheted baby blankets too, made from brightly-colored soft yarn, and around two feet square, or thereabouts. Making them reminds me of the gifts from fairy godmothers in stories, made with luck and love in mind; the good fairytale godmothers, that is, and the luck all good. I like variegated yarn for this. The colors progress through a sequence, making a self-pattern without needing a join. The colors are bright and harmonious. The size is just right for a baby stroller, and light enough that a small child can snuggle up with it when they grow older for a nap or to watch tv. I tend towards acrylics for practical reasons. You can throw them into the washer and dryer over and over with no harm to the piece.

I like to present them like rolled up flowers, tied up with string. They make a fun package to give to friends who are expecting or have had a new child. Reds, blues, greens, purples and spicy orange and pink. Rainbow colors to delight a child’s eyes.

Train to Portland for WDS

This weekend I set out on a terrific adventure to WDS, the World Domination Summit, in Portland. Here I am living in Seattle, with a bunch of options to get to the event. I can catch a plane, which is quick, but means standing around in airports. I could drive, but wouldn’t be able to read a book or write along the way. A train seemed like the best choice. It took only 4 hours, and is one of the best ways to see the water on the way down to Portland. The tracks are, in some places, only fifteen to twenty feet from the shore. I traveled business class to ensure I could plug in my laptop (a Surface Pro). There is a piece of fiction I’ve been working on, and the characters were calling for my attention.

On the train

On the train

Views on the way

Views on the way

Arriving at King Street Station, I stood in a modest line, only 5 people, to wait for the conductor. I had my e-ticket in hand. He let me know to go to the ticket office for seat assignment. Another short line, only two this time, later, I had a single seat and a coupon for a three dollar discount at the bistro car. All aboard carriage one, and quickly settled down to enjoy the experience. One of the most relaxing things about trains is the rocking rhythm, together with the speed. We had a few stops along the way to wait for freight trains, but none of them too long. We arrived at Union Station in Portland right on time. A quick ride later had me at the Hotel Modera, close to where the WDS events would be held. Close, I found in Portland, was a relative term. It was about nine blocks, and flat shoes were a good thing to have packed.

Hotel Modera view

Hotel Modera view


The summit was a melange of interesting people, great presentations on the main stage, and meetups that were put together by participants. Those were one of my favorite parts of the event, the people. I met folks from different countries, had a wonderful lunch of fresh seasonal foods, visited the farmer’s market. Best breakfast ever. Fresh biscuits with brown mushroom gravy and a fried egg. Delicious. And there was a bunch of walking. Portland is a city for pedestrians. There’s a lovely green belt on SW Park Street, that ribbons down, cooler than the surrounding streets, to Director Park. That was essential this weekend as the weather turned up the heat to the 90’s. Still, we kept hydrated, met loads of excited entrepreneurs, artists, writers and performers, all making the most of the weather and the chance to swap stories. I went to parties, acquired a temporary tattoo, and ate pie at Petunia’s Pies. On Saturday evening I celebrated the full moon with cocktails at the Nines, meeting some women with wonderful creative projects, and got to brainstorm book ideas with some great folks caring for animals.

Potatoes with beet salad

Potatoes with beet salad

The food in Portland is amazing. Fresh. Seasonal. Well prepared and delicious. Can’t wait to make another train trip with my sweetie to enjoy it again.

I am already planning to go to WDS next year, and am grateful to Lawrence and Sameer for recommending the experience. Also much gratitude to Chris and all the ambassadors for making it a memorable occasion. Thanks guys!

WDS has already been a success for me. I just finished the last 5,000 words of my novel and put it in the hands of my alpha reader today for feedback. Props to the summit for getting me unblocked. Don’t know how 5,000 words happened along with everything else, but am all fired up to continue on to the next book in the series. Now on to the next thing cousins. One step at a time.

Hope everyone else had a great time. I did. Will be reaching out to folks I met and chatted with over the next few days. There is at least one collaboration I’m excited about, and likely more.

lilacs in the garden

Lilacs

The scent of lilacs is heady and euphoric for me. I wandered out into the garden this morning to stretch, breathe and enjoy the color of the bushes. Last week I was standing under the cherry blossoms, and the week before that it was the magnolias, but today, today is for lilacs. For some reason they remind me of my grandmother. Perhaps it is the color, and that rinse that used to be popular for little old ladies. She lived to be 98 years of age, so perhaps lilacs are also a signal, for me, of tenacity.

This morning as I breathed in the color and the scent, I felt particularly grounded. A good way to start and to breathe in the day.

Meditation: Letting go

Salmon Berries

To begin meditation, you do so with intention. You are mindful that your intent is to take a sequence of actions to alter consciousness. Those actions can involve a deliberate change of focus, a change of breathing, an alteration in attention, or putting aside customary ways of thinking; meditation can also be a simple matter of being in the moment.  In the human potential movement of the ’80s and ’90s, we called it going with the flow. Nowadays, flow has acquired a capital letter – Flow – yet it is essentially the same thing. Let go. Be in the now. Get down with your self. Center. Be mindful.

Ideally, when we engage in contemplation or meditation, letting go is is about moving forward and not dwelling in the past. To let go is to stop holding on to things that happened to you or around you at some time before now. Some of that past stuff is good or great, and some of it is going to be stuff that bummed you or hurt you in some way. We are creatures who compare things, so whatever we bring to now is going to have informed who we are. We learned from it, were transformed by it, and survived to become the unique individual that is in the moment.

At the same time, when you meditate, this past stuff is going to come up, and that’s kind of natural to the process. When you stop running ahead, and thinking ahead about all those things to get done, stuff you ran away from, or forgot to think about rushes in, and your head can get kind of noisy for a bit.  Soon enough, if you give each thing that comes up a bit of attention or notice, it’ll quieten down. Depending on what the stuff is, it can take some time. Try to be okay with that. Some of it may have things to tell you that you did not have time to pay attention to before now.

Once you’ve noticed something from the past, maybe cherished it a bit, given your younger self a metaphorical hug, you can notice the behaviors and reactions you have from stuff that happened.  Are those behaviors that worked for you in the past still useful? Great, then keep them and enhance them. However, if the reaction or behavior is no longer useful in your current circumstances, then perhaps it is time to let it go. Sometimes the transition to being in the now means letting go of stuff that’s been incredibly helpful some other time or place. You’ll know what those things are, and what you want to keep as you contemplate.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

The scent of relaxation

Scent and memory

Do you remember the smell of baking in the kitchen, the rich aroma of fresh bread and the tantalizing spices from holiday meals? These are scents you will often find in candles and oil diffusers. It is no secret that scent and memory are connected, and the scents that remind us of home or safety vary from person to person. For me, the sharp citrus tang of oranges reminds me of summers from my childhood. Somehow summer equals oranges. Together with the lemon of my grandmother’s furniture polish, combined with the heavier fragrance of sandalwood and cedar, the spicy sweet frangipani and gardenia wafting in from the garden, these are the smells of home. Weekends added the dusty, sharp, resinous aromas of the Australian bush and the salt and seaweed wrack from the beach.

Nowadays, I burn sandalwood incense near the front door, use gardenia bath products, and keep apple and citrus guest soaps handy. In the winter, I like to keep mulled wine on the stove, and all year around I cook curries that keep the whole house fragrant with aromatic spices. The scents help me remember the good things.

About aromatherapy

Aromatherapy makes use of a variety of scents to change moods, to alter surroundings, or to craft a specific kind of atmosphere in a space. Beginning to work with aromatherapy can be as simple as using scented candles, or as complex as blending custom scents for every area of your life and home. I like to take an approach where I research the herbs and plants, and then make my own blends. Then I can change them as the mood takes me.

Spreading the aroma through the house

An incense burner can be a terrific way to spread the scent through a room. However, if smoke bothers you, it is easy to use the essential oil directly with an oil diffuser. There are handy ones that plug into a wall socket and do not require open flame. There are also really pretty glass, brass or ceramic ones that float the oil on water and heat the oil via a votice candle underneath a small dish that sits on top of the diffuser. This works much the same way as heating brandy to release the full flavor.

Some thoughts for playing with oils

  • For calming end-of-day relaxation, try jasmine and cedarwood, lavender and sage.
  • For subtle changes in atmosphere, try light pear, vanilla or sandalwood candles.
  • To become more energized, add some citrus scents like grapefruit, orange or lemon.
  • If you want to sharpen your thoughts, try some lemongrass, peppermint or carnation.

Blending your own scents

The main thing to keep in mind if you are going to blend your own scents is that you want essential oils rather than fragrance oils, as these are extracted from natural sources like plants, roots, fruits and flowers. They do not have additives that weaken the scent. Scents that traditionally come from animal sources such as musk and civit are now available as synthetics at a reasonable price; a plus is that this eliminates the element of animal cruelty that was associated with the animal based products. Win.

When blending the scent, you need a base, middle and top note

  • Base note – the scent that lingers for the longest, and is the foundation of the scent
  • Middle note – the body of the blend, or the main scent that gives the character
  • Top note – the lightest scent that you notice first

There are scents that fall into categories such as herbs, spices, alpine flowers, tropical flowers, resins, gums, roots, fruits and seeds. Some complex blends include elements from multiple categories, while most simple compounds may use two or three elements to combine into a single fragrance.

Testing a sample fragrance blend

To begin, select a couple of oils that you like, and using a separate fresh toothpick for each bottle, put a drop of each of your chosen oils onto a piece of blotting paper, next to each other. Wave the blotting paper a couple of inches away from your face and when you breathe in, you will be able to perceive how the scents work together. Do you like it? does it need more of one or the other? If so, add one more drop of the fragrance you want to increase. Does it need anything else? Try adding another fragrance to the mix, one drop at a time. Write down how many drops of which essential oils you use as you go. This becomes the basis of your recipe.

Making the final blend

Take a look at your notes and see what the proportions are from your test. If you have three drops of sandalwood, two drops of jasmine and two drops of vanilla, then your proportions are 3:2:2. I usually add a mixture in increments of 1 part = 5 drops, so the three drops of sandalwood would become 15 drops with an eyedropper, two drops of jasmine becomes 10 drops, and two drops of vanilla becomes 10 drops. I put this into a glass bottle with an eye dropper, shake it to mix together and then decide if I like it once I have this quantity. I repeat the process (always using a separate dropper for each essential oil to avoid contaminating the main bottles, until I have a full bottle of my blend.

Diffusing fragrance in a room

If I have made a scent and now want to diffuse it through the room, I can add a couple of drops of my mixture to a diffuser and light a candle under it. I can add the mixture to a special sponge/blotter and insert that into a plug-in diffuser. I can also dilute the mixture and use an atomizer to spray it around the room. If I choose the latter, I add it to purified water. To use it as a perfume, I may add it to ethyl alcohol, and to use as a massage oil or perfume oil, I may add the mixture to pure almond or jojoba oil.

Sources for essential oils

Go to Bing.com and search for essential oils, or go to amazon.com and do the same thing. Both will turn up lots of places where you can order small kits (6 oils), medium (12-24 oils) or large full sets of 64 oils. Personally, I love kits, so this is the route I recommend. You can also find essential oils at vitamin places, bookshops or massage supply locations.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Leave the work day behind

Putting on the work clothes in the morning is part of getting ready for the day; likewise, changing clothes at the end of the day tells me that I can put down the things of the day, walk away from the email, and pick up a book. Another part of the evening ritual is hanging up the jewelry and grabbing my comfy PJs. Sometimes that needs to be delayed until after dinner, if dinner is waiting for me when I get home, but sooner or later, it’s hot tub and shower, PJs and a nice cup of tea.

Then I can settle down on the couch and chat about news of the world with my sweetie. Recently, there was a great story in Scientific American about creative folks; we passed it around during the day, after a chum posted it to facebook, and I sent it along home as well. We got a big kick out of scientific study that shows we creative types are eccentric for a reason. Here is the link about the Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric.

Kicking back and chatting about the things we’ve discovered in the world that day renews that creativity, and encourages me to get out my creative tools and make jewelry, or create a blog entry or two.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Introduction to meditation

Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them.That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

The general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Remember to breathe

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to forget to breathe when under stress? It is easy to take shallow breaths, too fast, or to hold your breath, all without noticing that’s what is going on. Taking a deep, deliberate breath before public speaking, or before going into a meeting, can make a world of difference.

Try it now. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in while counting to three. Breathe all the way out, and breathe in again for the count of three; and then do it a third time. Three times three seems to do the trick for a feeling of increased wellbeing. Before you know it, your shoulders will relax, and whatever is making you stressed will not seem nearly so important.

Your emotions impact your body, and working on your breathing can have a tremendous impact on your internal sense of ease in the world. A few years back, when I was having some health issues, my inner balance was out of whack. Part of the way back to myself, and to better health, was to focus on Chinese breathing exercises called Qiqong (pronounced chee-gung). Those exercises taught me just how powerful breath could be in returning energy and vitality to my whole body. The basics of Qiqong are in combining slow deliberate movements away from the body (breathing out) and than back towards the body (breathing in), the graceful movements flowing from one to the other.

To read more about Qiqong, try an easy introductory book by Suzanne Friedman.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved

Experiencing happiness

Experiencing happiness seems to be helped along by not being distracted from thinking about the past or planning for the future. It seems to help to slow down to notice what’s happening now, rather than looking ahead to the next set of tasks that need to be done.

I’ve noticed that when on vacation, or when intentionally in relaxation mode, small enjoyable things are magnified. When away from home, away from distraction into tasks of fixing this and that, I can be more present in each moment. In relaxation mode, it is easier to pay attention to things like sunsets and pretty flowers, or the guessing game of watching people and trying to imagine their story. I can enjoy good meals that are eaten without rushing, and can get immersed in great conversations that have no time limit.

On weekends, I can often be in a similar mood. It may seem odd to plan for unstructured time, yet that seems to be the trick to letting go of other planning topics. If I have half a dozen things that might be fun to do, and none of them are necessary things, then the meander from one to the other is an easy flow, and I can drop one or all of them in favor of a meal, a good book, or a chance meeting with friends.  Getting away from the clock, and into the flow of experiencing the moment, seems to attract unexpected delight.

I recall an evening on our last trip to Hawaii, where we sat on a stone wall at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and looked at the stars for a while after dinner. Soon enough, a parade of people on various bicycles came past, more than a hundred of them, dressed in celebratory garb, sporting lights and streamers on their conveyances, all of which was exhilarating, and it made us laugh out loud. They smiled and waved, and we waved right back. If we hadn’t been relaxing and taking each moment as it came, we wouldn’t have been sitting on the wall, and likely would have missed the bicycle parade altogether. It may have been as though that moment of surprise, leading to enjoyment and happiness, had never been there. The experience led to us exchanging stories with my mum about other spontaneous bits of fun. Before long, we were singing pieces of silly song lyrics on the meander back to our hotel rooms.

Copyright 2012 R Loader all rights reserved