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These Angels Watching Over Me

Catherine Canyon Falls

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lorde

This really just happened to me.

This morning I woke and said good-bye to my son who was home from school in Florida for 2 days to visit a college near-by. Oh how I would love for him to attend that school. I am keeping that opinion to myself. Just between us here, you and me and the Divine. My husband drove Ben to the airport where he would catch the first of two flights carrying him south. Hugging that big boy, young man, holding his bounding energy for a moment to my breast, marked me.
After he left, I sat down, as I do daily, to meditate and read the books that nourish my hunger for sacred words to begin my day. “Page 17” I hear from the quiet place to which I have learned to listen. So I turn to page 17 of Jan Phillips’ No Ordinary Time. I read:

In the silence of dawn do I find you
In the roar of the crowd you are there
In the eyes of the foe can I see you
In my enemy’s heart do you dwell.

I read on. I read Rebecca’s Song, a prayer song that Jan heard in her meditation. I continue reading the following pages.
“We have one lifetime under this name to speak our truths…” I jot this in to my journal. I write a passage from page 18 that begins with “Meet this day with clarity and be a light in the darkness”.
Then it is time to go. A quick yoga stretch. Time to hurry to brush my teeth, dress and drive Catherine to school. She had walked to town to pick up a cup of cocoa as a gift for her friend whose birthday is today. So I scoop her and the hot drink up on Main Street and head north on Route 7 to her high school, which sits below Monument Mountain. If you stand with your back to the front door of the school, you can see the high ridge where legend has it, the Stockbridge Mohicans climbed before they departed for any journey. Our family loves to hike this mountain. After years of pushing our jogging stroller up the easy path or wearing the kids on our backs, we graduated to all of us walking up the difficult path, which takes us past a cave opening and tremendous boulders. In the shadow on this mountain Catherine goes to high school.
I leave her and her lunch, hands full of the cocoa gift and her heavy backpack at the curb. I pull in to the lane of traffic leading out from the parking lot. My car is followed closely by the big yellow bus which is heading to the middle school down the road.
I ease nearer to the intersection where cars move at highway speed, the two lanes busy at this hour. I wait for my turn. I look south and see my friend Heidi driving her daughter in her small sexy black car, always a trendsetter, Heidi is. But as she waves gleefully at me, I see the driver’s side door is badly smashed in. Not so bad as to prevent her driving it, but as the car shot past me, I worry for Heidi and the moment she got hit. That small car seems little protection against an impact. I send up a prayer for Heidi and her girl.
Then, with the bus breathing down the trunk of my car, panting for it’s turn to pull out on to Route 7, I see the busy road is thick with cars flying past in both directions. Unless you have a kid attending this school, you might not think to slow down. At afternoon dismissal, a police car sits in the center of the roadway, slowing people to make this exit easier and safe.
Safety is on my mind. I see no opening soon for me. I worry that I am holding people up. I send up another prayer. I ask for the help of angels to get me across the highway.
Before I finish this tiny prayer request, a black car, a station wagon driven by a bearded man slows to a stop in the northbound lane of Route 7, like he was getting a direct demand from the angels. As I pray, he slows to a stop. Cars barrel up behind him have to stop. And I proceed across the road way safely. I wave gleefully at the man who accelerates without expression.
I get home to continue with my day and I remember my morning reading. In my meditation I had heard, “Page 17″ but had taken notes from other pages. My journals are filled with lines from books, poems, quotes, notations about the weather and animal life, who is going where when, doodles and small paintings and long passages of my personal entries. I copy according to what strikes me on any given day.
I go back to the book and re-read page 17 and Rebecca’s Song is there. I had read the song but not taken notes until the next page. This is what I glossed past.

For you all have an angel who sits at your side,
who waits for your calling, who hears every cry
she’s there at your service, there as your guide,
so call her, she’s waiting with arms open wide.

I clean up the kitchen. I write a few more words, then walk down the hill to yoga class. A new teacher is with us today, the teacher of my teacher. I have never taken class with him before. He tells us we will be working our front body by opening our back bodies. He talks about how our doing self is our front body while our receiving self, our grace self is our back body. Our receptive self is our back body, full of grace. (It is where our angel bones are, right?) For the entire 90-minute class we practice “falling in to grace”.
I shed a few tears of gratitude in class for this gift of getting to embody what I had already experienced this morning.

I have spent the first four hours of this day feeling how the Universe has my back.

 

This is the week of Catherine’s birthday. She was born 16 years ago at a small hospital in Sharon, CT. She, like Ben, was nearly birthed in the car. I seem to be tolerant of labor and willing to keep moving until I am ready to give birth. Catherine was born a beacon of light. I write about her in my book titled Laundry Line Divine. I don’t write about her so much on my blog. She is younger than my son and I protect her more in certain ways. And, while she is braver than anyone I have ever met, I feel it is my job to filter, for as long as I can, what I expose of her exquisite beauty to the wider world. She is moving at her own pace now though. And, if I take the lessons of this week to heart, the Universe, the Divine, the Angels have her back too.
Here at LLD I write about seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life. There is no mistake that “page 17″ was an indication about my day, about my son flying on two jet planes back to school, about my daughter celebrating her friend’s birthday just 4 days ahead of her own 16th birthday so I drive her to school with a bag of caramel popcorn and a cup of hot cocoa and embroidery hoop and a collage kit. There is no mistake that this guest teacher was talking about opening our grace body. I lived the lessons of the morning with gratitude.

The morning felt like one long “YES”.

 
Yes to my back body. Yes to feeling my shoulder blades as hands of grace, coming together behind my heart, holding me, lifting me, opening my doing body to receive grace. So

 
that

 
I

 
can see
and celebrate the
sacred in daily life.

 

Again.

 

 

 

Suzi Banks Baum
November 6, 2013

Fired Up, Ready to Go: First Family, My Family

@barackobama and #greendrink for breakfast. #firedup !!!!

I just have to stop looking at the election night photographs.

Have you seen these?

Or have you looked at these?

This video-

inspired me to do this:

we accept certain obligations to one another

This election and every election since I was first able to vote in 1976 have engaged me. Many years have passed with feeling I have no place at the national table. I am too unpolished, undereducated and not well placed. Though Jonathan and I have done hours of service in our lives for candidates and causes, it has not been until President Obama’s campaign and years in office that I feel there is representation in the Oval Office that has anything close to my life experience.

Could it be I was born in Evanston, Illinois and somehow, those years in the Chicago area link me to the Obama family?

Or is it that I have a newly minted United States citizen in my life, Ella Rose,  who shares things with the Obamas that I will never share, for instance her skin color or lineage? Here she is in my sister, her adoptive mama, Elsa’s arms with Judge Shelley Gaylord in Madison, Wisconsin.

Or is it Michelle? The rock star “first Mom” who, if we knew each other I’d be picking her girls up from soccer and we’d be gardening together in the schools.

Or is it that this family, who looks something like my family with an athletic lawyer daddy, a multi-dimensional mommy and two kids who look like they spend a bit of time away from televisions and doing cool stuff every day, this family seems to operate as an energized source of real time vitality in a world that is so formal and divided from real life. I think this may be what has rocked my world today.

Listening to Clinton's DNC speech. This is an #Obama grocery bag from the #congo. XoS

In November four years ago, our daughter, Catherine, invited her entire class of 25 kids to celebrate her birthday by creating a mural of welcome for the newly elected President Obama. The kids filled their sections with wishes for him and his daughters, ideas for his presidency like stamping out plastic bags and getting a family dog. The mural was so full of innocent urgency for what they felt was important to them at that time, the environment, pets and friends. We rolled the mural up and mailed it to the White House. By Christmas, Catherine had a signed photo of the President on the wall in her room. No personal note as she’d hoped for nor a picture of Sasha and Malia looking at the mural, but she understood the arrival of the form letter thank you. It was her first message that people in the political arena may appear to be in her immediate world, but operate in a sphere we can hardly imagine.

So, I pour over the photos from last night, enjoying how the Vice President is so energetically physical in his contact with the President, communicating to us how they must spar over issues great and small, with some kindness and humor and integrity.

Or I look at the Election night video and see how Malia pointed out a section of the audience to her dad, the newly re-elected leader of our nation, and urged him to turn around to face another cheering mass of joyful humanity.

I see people who are living in a world that is filled with relationships, where families are valued and cherished and where the ideals of our nation are headed up by the word ‘LOVE’. Have you ever heard an elected official mention ‘love’ in any way other than the fist pumped “I love the United States” victory cry- President Obama said this:

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.”

Right now snow is flying past my window. My husband is napping off 4 days spent in Ohio assisting the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County. His experiences will filter in to all of us, the energy of his adventure folding in to our family legacy of standing for our values, no matter what.

My son #voted for his first time today! XoS @barackobama @benbaum3

Yesterday our 18 year old voted for the first time in his life. Catherine, and his best friend and I were there to see him navigate the swarm of people at the Great Barrington Fire Station. When we first arrived at the voting place, the boys commented with glee “there’s trucks!”. What better way for these kids to enter the world of citizenry, in a building with much loved fire trucks where neighbors were using their hard worn right to vote in an election for a person to lead our nation.

And, that leader, when chosen, celebrates his victory with grace, arms around his family, voicing gratitude to all who helped him to this place in history and urging us each to work with him. I have tears of joy for the opportunity this Presidency lays open for our children, who see this path of leadership as attainable and important and who feel included in the composition that is our democracy.

Thanks to Bruce and Jay-Z and Katy Perry for rocking us in to the election. In the Berkshires, James and Kim Taylor were working the polls, making calls and handing out treats to the workers with their two boys.

And, all of us, for whom celebrity is something we pour over on Huffington Post and MSNBC to see, today we feel a parting of the veil between celebrity and real life as Barack and Michelle invite us each to do our part and participate with them in creating our more perfect Union.

Whew.
Now I can get to work.
Heavy snow now.
xo S

It’s my birthday (month) ! Corks up!

I am a bit tearful here, on Tuesday, September 25, two days after Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. This month is peppered with birthdays of even more of my favorite people, like Jaq Belcher- who’s art just stops me in my tracks and Mary McGinn, who as Kitty Cavalier challenges women to own their sensuality in a beautiful way. It is also a month of anniversaries, like my friend Melissa Rankin’s. Her blog, Owning Pink is four years old this week.

But, you may know, it is also my birthday month and though I have been showered with birthday love from my family and friends, I think it best for you to know a few things that have transpired this year and most notably, this month. As I looked back over my birthday wishes for 2011, I realized they have all come to pass. Here’s the first two in bold and the stories that follow tell you how it all happened.

1. I wish for this year to hold magnificent health, healing and transformation for my family and me.

I am so grateful that this year I was vibrantly healthy all year with only one sinus infection. My girl and I continue to research green drinks. We are enjoying Kris Carr’s recipes this month. I think that makes a big impact on my well being.

@femailartnews on the road to #northadams and #PRESS!

Our son had a ski accident this year, which changed the territory of our winter and in a completely unexpected way, brought us all closer together. Speed and boys on skis are a natural fact. What happened for us, as we navigated his accident and healing, was particularly poignant. I would say, in spite of the great pain, agony and challenge his broken leg brought to him, we will all hold this past winter and spring as a very special time for us. The love that flowed towards us from our family and community, the stand our son took for his learning and his integrity to complete the work of his junior year and the very fabric of our family strengthening throughout those months were unexpected gifts.

As for transformation?

I BECAME AN AUNT! I have a new niece, named Ella Rose Mujiinga Banks and she is an excellent niece. She lets me swing her, sing to her, make her green smoothies and is an all around magnificent addition to our family. I am eternally grateful to my sister Elsa for bravely and against many odds, adopting Ella Rose from the Congo. I am grateful to Elsa for sharing her journey of motherhood with my family and me. Here is her latest finger grab shot with some other shots. Don’t get me going about missing her. Geri Miller took two of these shots. That is another story.

2. I wish for complete patience and humor as I parent my teen-agers. May that humor buoy me when I loose my patience.

Well, we have two teen agers here in this house. And a few more in Germany and from these Berkshire Hills who grace our table round with their immense good humor and sparkling individuality. I am grateful for each of them, and in particular our two kids who witness me every day. Here is Catherine with our German Anna and me with my German son David.

Now for the story:

There we are, driving from the airport in Nice, France (yes, it is very very nice there) to our destination in the hills above the Mediterranean, a small ancient village called Grimaud, which is the home of our friend. This friend had given us a driving route through the mountains, which appeals to my car-crazy husband. My daughter and I are in the back seat, ogling the view at one moment, studying the Michelin map at another, imploring him to slow down while our son crows in warning for each car he can only sense is approaching us on this one lane road from around the next curve.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right? Not at that moment. Thrilling, yes. Chilling? Nearly.

So. We make it off of this road that brought us to vistas made for postcards.

We drive happily in to the next town, where we hope to find bathrooms and food and solid ground with no precipitous edged roadways. Plan de la Tour supplies all of this.

We sit down to a simple lunch of bread and cheese, grilled to delicious ooziness and toasted with our sparkling water. Always on the look out for botanical noteworthiness, I see we are sitting in welcome shade beneath one of Ferdinand the Bull’s cork trees! It is a teaching moment! Right here, fresh from near death on a road high above the crystal blue vista and rocky drop offs. What joy!

I reach down to pick up some of the chipped bark in the well around the base of this old, craggy tree. Presenting it as a test to my children, who are used to feeling stems of plants to identify them or to sniffing some garden marvel to assure me they know jasmine from honeysuckle, I ask them, “Do you know what tree we are sitting beneath?”

Our 18 year old, is always on the lookout for cracks in my logic or loopholes in my reasoning. He nabs me for leaps of factual faith that I often take, stretching what I know to the next near outcropping of what I hope to know and anticipating an intellectual connection. Ben says, “obviously a tree that grows corks ready for the wine bottle, stamped and everything”.

While Ben and Catherine double over in convulsive laughter and recount my botanical gaffe to the recently returned from the doubla-vey-cey, Jonathan, I dig my glasses out of my bag. Did I mention how much I hate to wear my eyeglasses these days? In particular, I hate to wear them after near death experiences. I like to soften my vision to take in only the big shapes and skip over the tiny hairy details of things, like skinny pale blue lines that stand for roads through mountains. I have hilariously, (to some), skipped over the details on this round cork under what is a cork tree, which has printing on it and certainly did not spring directly from this kind old tree.

Well it is true what they say about your kids keeping you humble. We all had a very good and a little-too -long laugh about wine bottle corks growing on trees in France. I let the teaching moment turn itself back on me. There were in fact, bits of cork from this very tree, but it seems at this little café, they also toss used wine bottle corks in to the well around the base of the tree. (…What? for safe keeping?) I let it go, I promise you. (Writing this is helping me immensely.)

When Ben was tiny, we wandered the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, where we saw one such ancient cork tree that served as the photo backdrop for hundreds of visiting school children. The Amur cork tree, #143-A, once hosted years of group photos of kids spread like monkeys along the thick branches of that strong limbed tree. Sadly, that tree died in 1995. It had been a gift to the collection at the Arboretum in 1874 and had lived a long life there along the path. I remember picking up bits of cork from the base of that old tree to slip in to my pocket. I did not need my glasses then, and I assure you there was no printing or the vineyard’s blaze on those small bits of cork.

So. The laugh was on me.
And, I was, as I so desired in Birthday wish #2, buoyed by a cork to a sea of laughter with my children and husband, exhilarated by being alive together in that small, dry, quiet town.

Here are some photos I took that day.

And here, to celebrate his birthday, his brother-in-law’s birthday and mine too, is our own Bruce Springsteen.
Thanks to YouTube and some concert-goer, we get to shake it up with the Boss and his own mother, who he honors with humor and joy.
Go to full screen and turn up your volume.
xo,
S

Queen of my Own Heart: Sisterhood and thanks to Shiloh Sophia for this painting and poetry on the Laundry Line.

http://shilohsophiagallery.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/the_queen_of_her_own_heart.jpg

My Keystone Practices

Every morning I do a few things consistently.
I wake up.
I pray for a while.
Pee. Come on. I cannot do anything more before I pee.
Then I light a candle on my way past my dresser and send love to whoever appears in my heart at that moment.
I hop back in bed to do my meditation. This can take fifteen minutes or less.
It grounds me. I learned the one I do right now from Jennifer Matthews.
I do another ritual here, a very special one that is sacred to my well being that I learned from Regena Thomashauer.
I do a breathing ritual and stretches I learned from Saida Desilets.
I hop out of bed and do some hip spirals that I learned from Dr. Christiane Northrup.

And then, I hold my pink feather and speak my Stand, which I learned to do from Jill Rogers.
Depending on the day, I slip outside to do a sun salutation I learned from Kali Ray.
35 minutes, maybe 45 if I am really doing full slow breathes all along the way.

All these small gestures of grace have connected me to Source, I have offered gratitude and opened my heart.

At this point, the morning is upon me. My girl gets up, often before me, but she too enjoys a quiet morning. Ben, he gets up when he has to. School days, we are all together. This summer, there are quiet spaces among us.
In the kitchen, I spin green drinks, which I learned from my friends Patrice Colle and Janet Elsbach, and honed with my daughter Catherine.
Again, depending on the day and the season, I write in my journal, which I did long before I read Julia Cameron, but she affirmed the 45 minutes or three pages in my journal, right away. The optimal situation is if I have woken early enough before everyone and done my morning practice so I can write before I talk to anyone. Lately, this is a challenge, so I write after they are off in to their days.
I write at 10 or at 11. On days when I have to be out of the house, I write in the evening when the house quiets down and I can focus.

I am made up of things I have learned from other women.
I make these practices my own; sew in my upbringing as a Lutheran girl, my yogic studies, my years in Al-Anon, all these things that let me shed the trappings of religion to carve down to what is immediate, to my absolute connection to the Divine.

I read Rumi every day.
I read Mary Oliver.
I read the funnies because ‘Zits’ makes me know I am not alone with the teen-agers who don’t pick up dirty socks ever.

These are things I do before I pick up the phone. Before I engage in social media. And, if I am lucky, I do these things before engaging in any nagging or carping or hound dogging my kids. Such an animal I can be sometimes.

There is another big chunk which I do daily, a check-in I do with my husband. This gets mixed in to the time with the kids. I’ll write about this check-in another time, because it is integral to my relationship and fosters and feeds our connection throughout our busy days.
But first you must know about these early morning practices. Today, I dub them my Keystone Practices.
I read this article about ‘keystone species’ last night in the Economist, about mistletoe. I have studied the way grapes grow and the ‘mother vine’. When blackberries grow, that first ripe richly black berry out at the end of the cluster is called the ‘king berry’.

More Kings

And, in an act of sisterly synchronicity, Shiloh Sophia sent out that magnificent painting and this poem in her newsletter today, about every single woman being the ‘Queen of her own Heart’.

Every Woman is the Queen of her Own Heart

 By Shiloh Sophia

Every woman is the Queen of her own heart

She must decide how to govern her own domain.

She seeks friends and allies that honor

who she is now

and who she is becoming.

She has the power to create miracles.

 

All this congeals in me a sense of what makes me who I am today. I am steeping in the memories of this day, 18 years ago, which was the day before the day I gave birth to our first child, Benjamin. On this day, 18 years ago, I gardened and swam and lay in our hammock, not knowing how profoundly my life would change within 12 hours or more. I just did what I was to do that day, the Queen of my Life.

 

And so, as I have lived and laughed and wept and worried and tended this family and hung years of socks and sheets on our laundry line, I have distilled all I learned in to what it is I am doing today.
The practices I have learned from women so dear to me, these practices allow me to enter the holiest place in my life, the still quiet where I can hear God/Goddess without interruption. I listen to the silence and sweetly await the calm knowing that carries me in to the chaos of motherhood. These practices have strengthened me to mother with my authenticity present almost all the time. And they have buoyed me as I have claimed my voice as an artist, writer and actress, no matter what response I get, I am able to stand in my value as Suzi, as the individual that I am today.
And I can only hope, in doing so, I model for my children what it is to live my life out loud, as Emile Zola said so eloquently.

I am an artist… I am here to live out loud.

I am grateful for that quiet day in Hillsdale, New York, eighteen years ago, the day lilies and phlox, the monarchs, and a swim in the ore pit in the mountains kept time with me as I listened. They prepared me, as I prepare myself every single day, to be present to this mystifying and magnificent life.

Today, Michelle Aldredge posted a brilliant piece on her blog, Gwarlingo, about Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. She writes:

 

“To do our best creative work, we must be focused, but also relaxed and at ease in our own skin.”

In the midst of mothering my children, I have raised myself up by committing to finding comfort in my own skin. My Keystone Practices allow that to happen for me every single day. I am a diligent student and willing to make mistakes and grow.

Creativity lives at the edge of chaos.

For me, mothering and creativity are wedded, one.
Creativity has caught my life on fire and set me blazing.
Mothering combusts all that is dross. My desire to live fully and joyfully continually fuels me to shed and release all that no longer serves me.

Being a mother means I am always wading in chaos, it simply comes with the territory.
This is the place from which I write these blog posts, my books, letters and poems.
This place, which I arrived at nearly 18 years ago now.

July 17, 1994, 5:13 a.m. at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.

Here is JNB and Ben a few days after Ben’s birth.

I am so grateful to have woken up to this day with you all. Thank you for reading me here.
If you like what you’ve read and would like more, you can subscribe in the box to the upper right of this post.
You will get a small email when I hang something new on the Line.
And, if you are are inclined, please share this post with someone you know who might enjoy it.

In the next weeks, I will be celebrating some amazing women I have met this past month. Stay tuned here on the Line and at the ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ blog series II for new posts by Alana Chernila, Jenny Browdy and more.
With all my love,
S

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